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Movie review: 'Neds'

May 12, 2011

Adolescence is a time of brutally dashed hopes in Peter Mullan's "NEDS," whose title is shorthand for "non-educated delinquents" -- not a term of endearment. The fundamentals of this tough coming-of-age drama are familiar: financial struggle and emotional abuse on the home front, corporal punishment at school, raging testosterone finding expression in violence. But the telling is fresh; set in the mean streets of 1970s Glasgow, the film is a deft fusion of period detail, kitchen-sink grit and heightened cinematic reality.

The story of John McGill (Gregg Forrest) opens with sunny promise as the young boy prepares for middle school, his dreams of university and a journalism career buoyed by his mother and especially his bubbly aunt (Marianna Palka). By the time of Aunt Beth's next visit from the States, John (now played by Conor McCarron) has followed his older brother into the world of gangs, and her encouraging words have the hollow clang of naiveté.

First-timer McCarron is never less than convincing as a baby-faced brute who can elicit a stranger's sympathy as easily as he can inflict devastating comeuppance. Writer-director Mullan, who brings his formidable acting talent to the role of John's bitter wreck of a father, frames the boy's downward trajectory as a dark inheritance of self-loathing. Teachers are as likely to mock a good student as to praise him. Rejection is as elemental as air.

Yet a shrewd sense of humor courses through the bleak facts of John's story. The bloody scrums that erupt in the city's rain-lush parks are the kids' twisted bid at meaning, exuberant and mad.

-- Sheri Linden

"NEDS." No MPAA rating. Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

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