The Legend of Barney Thompson Review

the legend of barney thompsonSometimes, a debut feature-length directorial effort can be too in thrall to the maker’s influences to really stand out. Unfortunately, Robert Carlyle’s debut work falls into that rather disappointing category. The Legend of Barney Thompson is many things, but of its own mind is not one of them.

In Glasgow, a serial killer is on the loose. Ray Winstone, a cockney copper, is a fish out of water thrown into the departmental politics of an embattled, yet also incompetent, police force who are flapping in their attempts to foil and apprehend the killer. As things stand, all they seem to unearth is another gruesome body part sent by mail to various recipients.

Meanwhile, matters focus on the musings and fortunes of the short-tempered, but otherwise unremarkable, hairdresser, Barney Thompson (Carlyle). Increasingly ostracised in the workplace, this is a look at how an ordinary life can suddenly get twisted and take a dark turn.

In the background, a delicious performance is offered by Emma Thompson, who plays Barney’s mother, in a character that is the very antithesis of her take on P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks. She poses with pursed lips, cigarette at the ready, and endowed with the mouthy vernacular of a road-rage incited lorry driver.

Overall, this is a surreal drama that brandishes its influences a little too readily; it’s there in Tarantino cocktail of mixing surf guitar music with the kitschy lounge-style offerings of someone like Engelbert Humperdinck; it’s there in the Guy Richie-esque collision of colloquial exchanges with contrived one-liners; it’s there in the slo-mo sections that could even be Scorsese’s Mean Streets relocated to the mucky streets of Glasgow and labelled with an ASBO.

the legend of barney thompsonAll of this begs an important question; when does an influence turn from a catalyst for inspiration to out-and-out mimicry? It’s down to the utilisation, certainly. But the conclusion that probably needs to be offered is that this would not be all that important if the film’s narrative felt fulfilling. The mechanics would fall away and pale in comparison to the engrossment afforded through the film’s substance. Instead, the distraction becomes bigger as the attention increasingly wanders.

As the nefarious set-pieces play out, there is a mix of Wheatley’s Sightseers­-meets-Volver-meets-Pulp Fiction-meets-Snatch. And yet, it’s not as good as any single one of those films. It is a pity. Even the fairground section reminds one of the climactic Strangers on a Train scene.

All in all, Carlyle’s celebration of his film collection has manifested itself in a bit of a Curate’s Egg. If he can reign in the props to his heroes, he might find his own voice. The performances lift a stilted narrative out of the doldrums, but only just.

‘The Legend of Barney Thompson’ is in cinemas from 24th July 2015.


About The Author

Having upped sticks and marched down the A13 from Essex into the smog of London, Greg can be found ranting and raging as the Film Correspondent on the Jon Gaunt Show from time to time and also on his weekly 'The Film Review' podcast (plug alert - available on iTunes and Audioboom). Aside from Front Row Reviews, he also scribbles regularly for HeyUGuys. Lowlights, thus far, have been John Hurt scolding with the question 'do you really think like that?', upsetting acclaimed filmmaker Ondi Timoner with his piece for the Sunday Mirror and falling out with the blog editor of the Huffington Post. Oh, and he did bring Liv Ullmann to tears (but in a good way... more of a highlight, that one). He can also be found writing on theatre and music for the Islington Gazette, Ham & High, Hackney Gazette, Bargain Theatre, SupaJam and others. He's often moaning about how tired he is, and he's a frustrated musician.

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