The great character actor Peter Mullan has been in a number of terrific films since directing 2002's intense "The Magdalene Sisters." If "NEDS" is any indication, though, he should step behind the camera more often. This gritty, affecting, depressing film is a visceral experience and one of the hardest edged coming-of-age stories you're likely to encounter. NEDS stands for Non Educated Delinquents and the film charts one boy's progression into adulthood on the tumultuous and violent streets of Glasgow during the seventies. It is not an easy story to love, but it is a dramatic powerhouse that you won't soon forget. In an interesting choice, the primary character tends to be thoroughly unlikable--but you always understand him due to the circumstances of his existence. An abusive father, a hoodlum brother, an indifferent school system, an unescapable class division--John McGill can count on nothing but his intellect to extricate himself from his hopeless surroundings. But something always seems to hold him back.
As an isolated loner, John is at the top of his class. Just the very threat of his brother's retribution keeps him safe from the neighborhood toughs. But when his only friend turns away, John finds himself encircled by an unlikely group of new co-horts. Joining a junior gang, John soon starts to embrace a lawlessness and bravado. And as his life veers away from academics into violence, there may be no turning back. All the built up rage and uncertainty manifests itself in shocking and unpleasant ways which might even isolate him from his new buddies. John's descent is both harrowing and sadly realistic, but the film channels an unrelenting hope amidst the hopelessness. Is there any escape? Can John emerge from the lion's den unscathed and be better for it (an apt metaphor used in the film)?
Central to the success of "NEDS" is the unpredictable and riveting performance of Conor McCarron, who charts the ups and downs of John's journey with precision. The film rests squarely in his hands--you've got to be invested in the character and I wholeheartedly was. Mullan shows up as John's alcoholic father, and the entire supporting cast is spot-on. Moving and disturbing, this is a movie that will get under your skin and stick with you. A big recommendation. Unpleasant at times, to be sure, but worth it. Be forewarned, however, the accents and language are absolutely brutal (especially by the NEDS). The DVD defaults to playing with subtitles and, trust me, you'll need them! A serious film for adult audiences that appreciate hard edged drama, check this one out! KGHarris, 8/11.