In 1972 Glasgow, young John (Forrest) is a bright spark who certainly will never become a "Non-Educated Delinquent". He lives on a rough estate, and as he heads for secondary school he begins to be targeted by the bullying local gang members. But he keeps his head down, hides behind the fierce reputation of his big brother (Szula) and excels at his studies. Then two years later, John (now McCarron) falls in with a group of thugs who offer him acceptance and camaraderie. Of course his studies start suffering as a result.
Clearly, John knows better than to drift into this darkly violent world, and it's pretty painful to watch him bounce back and forth over the next year, giving in to his inner rage and beginning to lose sight of both the promise of his intellect and his goal to break out of his working class roots and attend university. The problem is that about halfway through the film we realise that this is all writer-director Mullan has to say to us.
This doesn't mean that the film becomes boring. It's gorgeously assembled, with a superb use of music and a gifted young cast. McCarron is especially good in a difficult role, holding the whole movie together and believably depicting John's defiant clashes with his ranting, drunken father (sharply well-played by Mullan). And some surreal filmmaking touches add an inner life to the character, even if the final visual metaphor is a bit obvious.
Essentially, this film teaches us that if you grew up in 1970s Glasgow you're lucky if you made it out alive. And there's not really anything more to it.
This is a pity, since the film is so skilfully designed, shot and edited that we want it to resonate on a broader scale. We want to dive into John's story and really feel his pain and frustration, but instead we merely sit back and watch. It's a fascinating story, but while it's constantly emotive, it never moves us.
Run time: 124 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 20th April 2011
Distributed by: Tribeca Films
Production compaines: StudioUrania
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 29 Rotten: 2
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Peter Mullan
Screenwriter: Peter Mullan
Starring: Conor McCarron as John McGill, Mhairi Anderson as Elizabeth, Martin Bell as Julian, Joe Cassidy as Janitor, Linda Cuthbert as Mrs Matheson, Alex Donald as Mr. Halligan, John Joe Hay as Fergie, Gary Lewis as Mr. Wilkinson, Richard Mack as Gerr, David McKay as Mr Holmes, Peter Mullan as Mr. McGill, Marcus Nash as Patrick, Marianna Palka as Beth, Steven Robertson as Mr Bonetti, Douglas Russell as PC Connelly