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TORONTO — A testosterone-charged flipside of sorts to his acclaimed 2002 drama, “The Magdalene Sisters,” Peter Mullan’s “Neds” is a bold, persuasive period portrait of a juvenile delinquent in the making.
Although the subject matter is certainly not uncharted territory where filmmakers have been concerned, the actor-director brings his own keen observational style to the naturalistic kitchen-sink approach as well as his proven way with coaxing memorable performances from his actors, no matter how minor the role.
Continued festival exposure — it has its world premiere in Toronto — should pave the way for distribution via a specialty outfit that would be wise to retain those subtitles, given all that dense Scottish brogue.
Set in working-class Glasgow during the early 1970s — Mullan’s previous film was set in ’60s Ireland — “Neds” is an acronym for Non-Educated Delinquents.
It’s a classification that ruddy-cheeked John McGill (Conor McCarron, as well as Gregg Forrest as the younger edition) would at first seem determined to circumvent.
Despite his troubled home life at the hands of his menacing, drunken father (an effective Mullan) and the presumed negative influence of his card-carrying Ned big brother, Benny (Joe Szula), the intelligent, sensitive young man initially manages to rise above his new school’s low expectations.
But he ultimately and systematically succumbs to the inevitable as deeply seated resentment and rage are allowed to fester unheeded by those bleak surroundings.
Credit McCarron for making every step of that dramatic transformation disturbingly but sympathetically credible, as his fellow young castmates play their roles with similar conviction.
As Mullan demonstrated in “Magdalene,” the heavy subject matter doesn’t preclude lighter, humorous moments, with amusing breathing room provided by John’s school teachers — true characters all.
Neither out of place is a surreal ending that is in keeping with the expansive tone of the production, which has been given a fuller dimension than the usual grainy grit courtesy of Roman Osin’s heightened camera angles.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production: Bluelight, Fidelite Films., Studio Urania
Cast: Conor McCarron, Gregg Forrest, Peter Mullan, Joe Szula
Director-screenwriter: Peter Mullan
Executive producers: Peter Carlton, Carole Sheridan, Brahim Chioua
Producers: Alain De La Mata, Marc Missonnier, Olivier Delbosc
Director of photography: Roman Osin
Production designer: Mark Leese
Music: Craig Armstrong
Costume designer: Rhona Russell
Editor: Colin Monie
No rating, 124 minutes
Sales agent: Wild Bunch
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