The Wee Man
Martin Compston stars in this uneven crime drama that glamourises its real-life subject
Based on the memoirs of Glasgow gangland figure Paul Ferris, this chronicle of a bloody underworld feud runs from the early 1970s, when a young Ferris and his friends are menaced by the ruthless Welsh family, to the 80s, when Ferris is married and expecting a child, but still engaging in increasingly high-stakes tit-for-tat attacks with his old nemeses. Oh, and getting into the odd sticky situation while working as a debt collector for a notorious crime boss.
The film makes impressive work of its shifts through time, with diligent production design and authentically heinous 70s and 80s fashions and interiors creating a highly persuasive physical environment. It starts well, with exceptional work from child actor Daniel Kerr as the young Ferris and Denis Lawson as the father who tries to guide him into the understanding that their world has real-life 'monsters' in it. However, the tale of Ferris’ ensuing adult struggle against these bad elements is told with scant recourse to subtlety, and with a partiality that leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth. While the crimes of the Welshes – which escalate from dog abuse to child rape to old lady murder – are shored up relentlessly enough for us to conclude that they are indeed as close as people come to being the fairytale monsters of Ferris Sr’s construction, Paul himself as played by Martin Compston is persistently painted as a good guy in a bad situation, and his eye-for-an-eye approach to justice as simply the only route available.
It’s of course the filmmakers’ prerogative to paint Ferris’s life story as they choose, and the performers here all share a commitment to their work that elevates the whole – but the script’s struggle to flatter its unprepossessing vigilante protagonist (he’s prone to coming out with poetic self-justifying speeches, too) is unconvincing, if not arguably irresponsible.
Selected release from Fri 18 Jan.