Year: 2010 (U.K Release 2011)
Director: Peter Mullen
Screenplay: Peter Mullen
Starring: Conor McCarron, Peter Mullen
Synopsis is here
If Richard Ayoade's Submarine is getting plaudits for being a coming of age flick with an arthouse/indie twist that the Brits usually avoid/not bother with. NEDS should be applauded for being the type of coming of age film that the Brits know and love; gritty, personal, visceral and provocative. Praise should also go to Mullen for delivering a film which is also punctuated with darkly humorous asides (fight sequences played out to glam rock classics) and evocative symbolism; with the films last shots alone being compelling, troubling and truthful while maintaining it's bizarre tone.
NEDS ponders the question that was asked so directly in The Wild One (1953) "what are you rebelling against? The film's lead John McGill (Conor McCarron) has an answer, it slowly becomes clear that he wants to claim identity on his own terms. Unfortunately, he is locked down by a society that seems that its has already decided upon how it wants to see him. An intelligent boy with one eye on the future, John is lamentably trapped within an area where physical violence and threats from other kids are the normal, other parents who look at his working class background with scorn, a brother with a gang reputation that proceeds him and an alcoholic father who lack of presence as a dad an aggression towards his wife is as negative as a father who is absent. There's so much pushing against the young man that it's no surprise; like a shook up bottle of coke, he is pressurised to go off when opened.
Mullen layers a quiet intensity throughout the movie, which is best seen in the sequences involving John and his Father (an always great Mullen). We do not see much of this character through the run time, but the presence and gravitas Mullen gives him creates a perfect storm-like atmosphere. We don't only get a full establishment of the family life quickly, but we also sense the how long the turmoil has lasted.
Mullen's performance is the type of display one would expect of a man of his talents, however it's brilliant to see him going up against a young contender like McCarron. In a debut role, McCarron almost effortlessly balances swagger, intelligence, fear and ferocity as if he was a veteran. Much like Thomas Turgoose in This is England (2006), this is a performance that doesn't hold any of the pretension an well verse child actor could have and is loose enough to allow the character of John to breathe as a fully formed, flawed lost soul.
NEDS isn't a film with visual bombastics and Mullen's look of the film is an efficient one, the captures the grim grey look of a 70's Scotland. It would be interesting to watch this next to Ratcatcher (1999) and compare the more romantic visuals of Lynne Ramsey to Mullen's more matter of fact affair. It's also interesting that both films show such a troubled Scotland and are careful not to search for easy answers within their stories. I must admit at one point I was worried that NEDS could boil over to either false hope or over exaggerated nihilism. However, like it's lead character the film carefully balances over a knife edge to it's powerful and yet still ambiguous climax.
British features have been hoping into genre flights of fancy recently and for that I've been grateful. However, it's always worth while to see British film get down and dirty in that underbelly that we do so well.