Damned Idiotic Reviewing Knucklehead—Appellate Judge Tom Becker's a DIRK.
Some people need to be taught a lesson.
NEDS—which stands for "Non-Educated Delinquents"—is Peter Mullan's third feature; his second was The Magdalene Sisters, one of the best films of 2002. Here Mullan once again looks at the UK in the second half of the 20th Century—Glasgow in the '70s this time, rather than Dublin in the '60s—in this disturbing coming-of-age story on the streets.
John McGill (Conor McCarron) is a bright teenager. He seems determined to do well in school and rise above his circumstances. John's family is lower class, with an abusive, alcoholic father (Mullan) and an older brother, Benny (Joe Szula). Benny's a thug, a "big man" on the street and leader of a gang. John's mother is terrified John will end up like his father or older brother.
But during summer break from school, John does fall in with a "wrong crowd." While initially something of a curious follower, John soon sets himself apart from the crowd by being even more reckless, violent, and aggressive than the others.
Mullan's tale is alternately brutal and banal, with the story of John's somewhat dreary day-to-day existence punctuated with scenes of fights, stabbings, and assorted mayhem. The inexperienced McCarron offers an appropriately unsympathetic performance as the sullen yet volatile John, as are the other young, by-and-large nonprofessionals who play his mates and enemies. The naturalistic performances, authentic settings, and non-sensationalized story make NEDS reminiscent of the British "kitchen sink" dramas of the early '60s.
Mullan's detached approach serves his story well. The audience isn't set up to sympathize with John; in fact, there are times his behavior is so outrageous that you might want to see him caught, if only for his own sake. Mullan also plays John's erratic, alcoholic, and ultimately pathetic father, a role that's a bit hackneyed, though as both actor and writer, Mullan invests it with some original twists.
At 124 minutes, NEDS is a bit longer than it needs to be, and a sequence in which John hallucinates a hostile encounter with Jesus seems a little indulgent. Mullan's ending is enigmatic; it' hard to tell exactly what he's trying to convey—Biblical allusion, perhaps?—but it's a strange, and strangely poignant, finale to a powerful film.
The disc from New Video is a less-than stunning affair. The picture and audio are fine, as would be expected from a recent film, but the disc features burned-in English subtitles. Granted, the Scottish accents make the subtitles at least an occasional necessity, but why not give the viewer the option of turning them on or off? Also, the subtitles often report exactly what was said ("toon" for "town," "no'" for "not," "heid" for "head"), rendering them a bit confusing. The only supplements are a couple of deleted scenes.
Potent drama, middling disc, still recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
• Deleted Scenes
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