Director: Robert Carlyle
Starring: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone, Tom Courtenay, Ashley Jensen, Martin Compston
Running Time: 93 min
The 69th edition of the Edinburgh International Film Festival opens with Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut, a Glasgow-based comedy with a fine line in jet-black humour. Adapted from The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson by Scottish crime novelist Douglas Lindsay, the film boasts a powerhouse cast including Carlyle himself, Ray Winstone, Emma Thompson, Martin Compston, James Cosmo, Ashley Jensen and Tom Courtenay. The director also takes the title role, playing an anti-social barber who, through bad luck and fate, finds himself as the main suspect in a multiple murder case.
“I’ve got two styles”, professes Barney in the opening lines of the film. He is referring to his character’s hairdressing method, reflecting a no-nonsense approach that has seen him fall down the pecking order at the barbershop he has worked in most of his life. Carlyle could just as easily be referring to his filmmaking technique, a Jekyll and Hyde approach which shows a fair amount of flair and invention, but also sizeable chunks of predictable cliches and lowbrow humour.
There’s a lot to like here; not least the retro polish Carlyle has given modern day Glasgow. It lends an off-kilter, other worldly feel which adds to its bizarre neo-noir appeal. He is also blessed with a talented cast who are 100% committed to their roles. Ray Winstone is a wheezy ball of rage playing the detective who is convinced Barney is their killer, but Emma Thompson steals the show as Barney’s venomous mother Cemolina. Clearly having a blast in the role, her poisonous put downs of her son would be heartbreaking, if they weren’t so funny. If Norman Bates and his mother had pitched up in an episode of Still Game, it would come close to what we have here.
While the dialogue packs some punch, it’s also wildly inconsistent, with an over-reliance on the most basic of toilet gags and some completely out of place one-liners. This is where the frustration lies with Barney Thomson. At its best its spiky and hilarious; when it gets it wrong its embarrassingly unfunny. Throw in a finale that aims for the ludicrous but merely reeks of lazy writing, and it makes for a mixed directorial debut for Carlyle. It may be lopsided effort, but it boasts enough promise to show he is capable of something special in the future.