Robert Carlyle has proven to be an astonishing actor from his memorable work in The Full Monty, Trainspotting, and California Solo. Though The Legend of Barney Thomson allows the actor to return to his Trainspotting-esque wildness, it’s unfortunate that his first attempt at directing a feature film isn’t quite so flawless.
In The Legend of Barney Thomson, Carlyle stars as the title’s temperamental Scottish fool. Thomson rages whenever he feels disrespected, which is often, and he doesn’t understand his stupefyingly bad luck. When murders start occurring around him (some of which are accidentally caused by him), he thinks on his feet to hide the evidence. With the help of his surly mum (played by Emma Thompson in full senile senior mode), Barney rolls with the punches and tries to keep his cool around prying investigators (including Ray Winstone, who appears as though he’s trying to remember if he’s left the stove on).
The Legend of Barney Thomson is truly uneven, which may be faithful to Douglas Lindsay’s work that has been adapted by screenwriters Colin McLaren and Richard Cowan. However, as you watch film, you get the sense that either Carlyle doesn’t have enough faith in the writing or the amateur filmmaker isn’t experienced enough to balance material this hot and cold.
What Carlyle is able to do, however, is try and mask the film with a slick style so that the audience doesn’t feel the same unease he does. The film’s style matches the crime noir nicely and the choice to shoot some confrontations head-on while appropriately optioning other types of artistic cinematography shows the filmmaker has learned a lot from watching fellow directors at play.
The Legend of Barney Thomson has some funny moments (a scene featuring Carlyle and Thompson driving home after an awkward discovery in the trunk of the car is priceless), but the production can’t handle the constant switching between comedy and drama. When the wackiness is firing on all cylinders after a sombre discussion, the film tends to be obnoxious and inconsiderate. But, again, maybe that’s the intention of Douglas Lindsay’s barbershop death junkie series.
Much like Barney Thomson, Robert Carlyle had to think on the fly while making his directorial debut. And also like his character, the filmmaker is only somewhat successful.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie