Neds 2010 ★★★½

Unfortunately, NEDS is not a movie about a psychotic physician who clones Ned Beatty and joins the replicas together ala Human Centipede and then sends the troupe out on a cross country comedy adventure co-starring Rob Schneider and Udo Kier as “The Cleaner.” This NEDS (Non-Educated Delinquents) is the first film directed by Peter Mullan since 2002 heavy hitter, The Magdalene Sisters. I may not have been quite as eager to see this NEDS as I would be at the prospect of that other NEDS, but I was certainly not left sulking in a puddle of disappointment after this one.

Peter Mullan, the actor, is recognizable from appearances in films like My Name is Joe, Trainspotting, Boy A etc. Mullan, the director, hasn’t exactly been cranking out the movies and it’s apparent that he subscribes to “quality vs. quantity.” The Scottish born filmmaker with a background in political activism creates intense and jarring cinema. Like The Magdalene Sisters before it, NEDS nails you with force, right in the breadbasket.

Gifted student John McGill is preparing for his high school years in 1970s Glasgow, Scotland. Although mild mannered, he stands out from his peers in the rough, working class neighbourhood simply because he takes an interest in academics and possesses a drive to better himself. The reality of the institutionalized school system comes crashing down rather quickly, however. The teachers, many of whom could care less about making a difference, simply take on the role of wardens in an attempt to contain the contents of the holding cell powder keg. As time goes by, the persistence of crime, violence and hopelessness take their toll on John and he slips beneath the thick tread of their influence.

John McGill is Conor McCarron’s first film role and in many ways, he reminds me of Ray Winstone in Scum. In fact, the films of Alan Clarke are kindred spirits to NEDS in their brutal yet honest portrayals of adolescent struggle in the face of harsh fucking reality. Mullan, who also appears in NEDS as Conor’s alcoholic father, neither glorifies nor condemns the youth for their behaviour. He puts the entire system that has been designed to practically ensure failure on display, warts on top of warts and all.

NEDS is heavy duty but it isn’t without humour – I genuinely laughed at the ridiculousness of some scenarios (which were meant to be funny) and how the characters tried their best to get through them. There were instances where some pretty major happenings don’t end up amounting to anything, and it felt like they should have. These do work against the film to a degree. As a whole, though, this one stood out for me in my batch of recent viewings.

I was lucky to have been able to check out a print of The Magdalene Sisters when it was in its theatrical run and I anticipate the next Mullan helmed movie. Although, at this rate, it may not happen for another 10 years down the road.

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