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The Legend of Barney Thomson (2 stars)

EIFF 2015: Robert Carlyle's directorial debut is a disappointing black comedy

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The Legend of Barney Thomson

Before the opening credits are up, Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut announces itself with a close-up of a severed penis; surreal black comedy is clearly the goal, but the familiar tropes featured in The Legend of Barney Thomson prove less-than-legendary in terms of laughs or drama.

Carlyle plays Barney, a downtrodden barber in the Bridgeton area of Glasgow, hen-pecked by his grotesque mother Cemolina (Emma Thompson) and bullied by his boss Wullie (Stephen McCole). In a physical struggle, Barney accidentally stabs Wullie to death, and struggles to find a way to dispose of the corpse. But with local police investigating a serial killer who sends body parts through the post, Barney's desperate antics place him on the radar of dogged English copper Holdall (Ray Winstone).

Adapted from Douglas Lindsay’s novel The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson (the first in a series), the 2015 Edinburgh International Film Festival opener features a decent performance from Carlyle in the leading role, plus solid support from McCole, Martin Compston and James Cosmo as Wullie’s dad. But Richard Cowan and Colin McLaren’s slapdash script trades only in crude gags, saddling the remaining cast – including Winstone, Ashley Jensen and Tom Courtenay – with ugly, unfunny stereotypes. The worst offender is Emma Thompson, whose prosthetically aged appearance, artlessly plastered cosmetics and predilection for leopard-print contribute to an insultingly over-the-top caricature that derails the film each time she appears.

Such miscasting aside, Carlyle’s film is let down by confused period detail (the music and clothes nod to the 50s and 70s, while references to Angelina Jolie and Kasabian indicate a modern setting), discordant photography and a sneering, unsympathetic attitude to its characters. As bodies in bin-bags pile up in tiresome fashion, Carlyle’s handling of a garbled story generates little tension or interest on the way to a rushed, risible woodlands showdown – with echoes of Reservoir Dogs – that’s delivered on the indulgent level of a student film. Whatever the intention was, The Legend of Barney Thomson’s brand of gallows humour feels woefully dated; it’s such a shame that Carlyle’s poor selection of script has rendered his first attempt to direct as dead on arrival.

Screening on Wed 17 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015. General release from Fri 24 Jul.

The Legend of Barney Thomson

  • 2 stars
  • 2015
  • UK/Canada
  • 90 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Robert Carlyle
  • Cast: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone
  • UK release: 24 July 2015

Barney (Carlyle), a downtrodden Glasgow barber, accidentally stabs his boss Wullie (McCole) to death, and then has to cover up the crime. Carlyle's directorial debut has some decent performances, including his own, but is seriously let down by a garbled, unfunny script, discordant photography and woefully dated gallows…

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