The Legend of Barney Thomson
2.5/5   US title: Barney Thomson
dir Robert Carlyle
scr Richard Cowan, Colin McLaren
prd Holly Brydson, Brian Coffey, Richard Cowan, Kaleena Kiff, John G Lenic
with Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone, Martin Compston, James Cosmo, Ashley Jensen, Tom Courtenay, Brian Pettifer, Kevin Guthrie, Sam Robertson, Stephen McCole, Eileen McCallum
release UK 24.Jul.15, US 11.Mar.16
15/UK Icon 1h36
The Legend of Barney Thomson
Mummy issues: Carlyle and Thompson

winstone compston jensen
edinburgh film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Legend of Barney Thomson This directing debut from Robert Carlyle shows some real visual flair. But it struggles to strike the necessary balance between violence, humour and emotion, which makes it difficult to engage with the blackly comical plot. There's also the problem that Carlyle's eponymous character is never likeable enough to root for.

In Glasgow, middle-aged Barney (Carlyle) loves his job as a barber. Unfortunately, customers are tired of his abrasive personality, so his boss Wullie (McCole) sacks him. When a sudden accident leaves Wullie dead, Barney wraps up the body and goes to his tetchy mother (Thompson) for help. And he's shocked to discover the next day that she has neatly butchered Wullie and hidden him in her freezer. Meanwhile, local detective Holdall (Winstone) is competing with his colleague Robertson (Jensen) to solve a series of deaths involving the posting of body parts to the police station.

Barney is a difficult character: never remotely sympathetic and not very believable either in the way he reacts to everything that happens. Carlyle is a terrific actor, but struggles to bring coherence to such an oddball role. The hapless Barney behaves erratically through the plot's outrageous coincidences. This must work better in Douglas Lindsay's novels about Barney, in which the reader can perhaps better identify with the inner workings of his apparently troubled mind. But the film's voiceover narration never offers insight.

And the other characters are also hard to engage with, no matter how sharply they are played. Winstone is full of bluster, Jensen is a bundle of angry nerves, Compston (as a fellow barber) is enjoyably surly, Courtenay (the police chief) is hilariously supercilious and Cosmo (the barbershop owner) adds some gruff warmth. Meanwhile under heavy makeup, Thompson steals the film as a leathery woman who knows who she is and won't let anyone tell her how to do anything.

As a director, Carlyle echoes Wes Anderson with his formal framing and a vivid use of bright colour (red is dominant here). He also makes terrific use of Glasgow locations, including the legendary leisure centre Barrowlands, plus a few excursions into the scenic countryside. Yet while the convolutions of the plot are lucid and packed with intrigue, the blackly comical tone never quite clicks into gear. This leaves the movie looking stylish and cool, but eerily unfunny and uninvolving.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 8.Jul.15

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