The Legend of Barney Thomson

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Robert Carlyle

Starring

Emma Thompson Ray Winstone Robert Carlyle

Anticipation.

Robert Carlyle is one of the good guys.

Enjoyment.

Some fun performances, but that’s about it.

In Retrospect.

Awful, anachronistic material delivered with a total paucity of charm.

Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut is a miserable, tone-deaf hash of black comic clichés.

It’s interesting to ponder whether actors realise when they’re staring in bad movies. Here is a case of an actor (Robert Carlyle) shifting to the director’s chair and perhaps not realising that he’s made a quite terrible film. Okay, there are some basic technical passes to be allowed in The Legend of Barney Thomson, and there’s one or two appealingly off-kilter performances (cf Emma Thompson with OAP prosthetics and funny accent, aka “doing a Tilda”).

But for the most part, this is a wretched film that’s overloaded with casual hatred passed off as ironic cynicism. It hates the young. It hates the old. It hates the poor. It hates women. It hates outsiders. It hates authority figures. It hates the police. It hates small businesses. It hates local heritage. It hates Glasgow. It hates people. But most of all, this film is the enemy of basic coherence. It begins on a pratfall, when snivelling dullard Barney (Carlyle) accidentally murders his boss in a situation so improbable that you’re waiting for it to be revealed as a drunken dream sequence.

Barney’s decision to then dispose of the corpse and not fess up to the crime (of which he is clearly innocent) helps to toss out any shred of credibility and empathy, and the movie dances on the spot for another 75 or-so minutes pretending to be a provincial riff on Sweeney Todd until… it ends. It’s a very ’90s film, edgy in a way that recalls the slew of Brit flicks which emerged trying to be the next Trainspotting or the new Full Monty.

There’s a basic contempt for the audience in the way it presents characters who drift through life making idiotic decisions that have no basis in reality. It’s very tough to describe what this film is and to whom it might appeal. Like the character of Barney, there’s little clue as to whether he’s the hero, the villain or just a regular Joe with a silly haircut who stumbled across testing times. One thing’s for certain, we’re never once made to care enough to want to figure it all out.

Published 23 Jul 2015

Anticipation.

Robert Carlyle is one of the good guys.

Enjoyment.

Some fun performances, but that’s about it.

In Retrospect.

Awful, anachronistic material delivered with a total paucity of charm.

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