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New Release Review - THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON

A socially awkward barber inadvertently becomes a serial killer.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Robert Carlyle

Starring: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone, Ashley Jensen, James Cosmo, Tom Courtenay



'Everyone involved is far too good for this material and it's arguably a career low for the entire cast, none of whom appear remotely comfortable here, as if they've been reluctantly enlisted for a Comic Relief skit. As Barney Thomson would say himself, it's "shite!"'



When actors turn their hand to directing, the influence of the filmmakers they've enjoyed successful collaborations with is often clear to see. Clint Eastwood's early movies fell somewhere between Don Siegel and Sergio Leone. Ryan Gosling's unfairly panned Lost River bears more than a passing resemblance to the work of Nicholas Winding Refn. Robert Carlyle's debut behind the camera, adapting Douglas Lindsay's novel The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson (isn't that a far more enticing title?), gives the impression the actor was so enamoured by his time serving under Danny Boyle in 1996's Trainspotting that he refused to watch any movies released since.
Carlyle casts himself in the title role of a socially awkward, middle-aged, mullet sporting Glasgow barber whose lack of customer banter results in his boss cutting him loose. Upon receiving the news of his sacking, Barney Thomson accidentally kills his employer with a pair of scissors, becoming an unwilling Sweeney Todd. Meanwhile a serial killer seems to be at large in the city, mailing various body parts of their victims to the baffled police. Assigned to the case is cockney transplant copper Holdall (Ray Winstone), who believes the disappearance of the barbershop owner is linked to the crimes of the suspected serial killer.
Barney enlists the aid of his gruff mother, Cemolina (Emma Thompson), in helping cover up his crime, and this is where the film really falls apart, thanks to a career worst performance from Thompson, whose portrayal of a working class Glaswegian plays like a mean-spirited act of class minstrelism, shocking blue eye shadow replacing blackface. Surely Carlyle could have found a Scottish actress to take this part?
The film's script and Carlyle's directing style are two decades past their sell by date, trading in the worst mid-90s, post-Tarantino clich├ęs. Musical cues are used ironically. Capra-esque freeze frames are accompanied by voiceovers that seem to believe they're providing witty insight. There's even a Mexican standoff, complete with 'hip' dialogue. Everyone involved is far too good for this material and it's arguably a career low for the entire cast, none of whom appear remotely comfortable here, as if they've been reluctantly enlisted for a Comic Relief skit. 'Legend' generally implies myth, but sadly for cinemagoers, The Legend of Barney Thomson is all too real. As Barney Thomson would say himself, it's "shite!"



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