An adaptation of the first in the a series of seven books from Scottish novelist Douglas Lindsay, ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson’ is the feature debut of actor turned director Robert Carlyle, and tells the comic tale of a hapless barber, played by Carlyle himself, who escapes the mundanities of his existence by accidentally becoming a serial killer! Before long, cockney copper Detective Inspector Holdall (Ray Winstone) is on his case, and Barney is forced to turn to his chain-smoking, bingo-loving mum Cemolina (Emma Thompson) to get him out of trouble.
Filmed in the director’s home of Glasgow, the city is coated in a sheen which goes against the gritty stories it usually provides a backdrop for and sets it in a more favourable light with comic-book elements suited to the black comedy subject matter. The sick wit is presented in a way that shows influence from his friend and previous collaborator Irvine Welsh and the cinematic adaptations of his novels. Techniques like Barney’s narrative voiceover and the colloquialisms such as “nae patter” in the dialogue serve to extenuate the similarities. Because of this stylistic approach, a Filth meets Sweeney Todd vibe is created, and the obvious comparison to the latter is eluded to in the script. The overarching plot and its structure take a familiar shape pretty quickly when Barney’s accidents spiral out of control, so much so that you can almost find humour in moments before they occur on screen.
Because of its air of predictability where the story-telling is concerned, the film relies on the performances from its experienced cast, and boy has it got one. Carlyle himself is hugely impressive as sappy Barney, managing to create likeability and empathy for the protagonist, given his careless homicidal activity. The scene stealer is Emma Thompson, who is nearly unrecognisable from a physical standpoint. Despite being just two years older than Carlyle, she carries off the role as his eccentric mother with ease, due to clever prosthetics and sheer talent. She is certainly the most memorable from the supporting characters, and brings the biggest laughs with her dry delivery in a finely tuned thick Weegie accent. Winstone is caricature-like but entertaining as a fish-out-of-water Londoner and other small job stand outs include Brian Pettifer and Tom Courtenay.
‘The Legend of Barney Thomson’ takes a simple, yet incredibly funny story, and successfully transforms it for the big screen. Boasting a creative, visual richness and a fun, old fashioned soundtrack, Robert Carlyle shows a lot of promise in moving behind the camera, and in getting strong performances from those in front of it whether he wishes to or not. Given the vast versatility in his acting back catalogue, there is potential in whichever genre he should wish to venture into next. The director’s chair is a comfortable place for Carlyle to sit, but I for one won’t be resting in Barney’s barbershop chair any-time soon!
Projects which bring biblical stories to the big screen are often shrouded in controversy and Noah has expectedly followed suit. Is there room for creative licence when adapting chapters from the Old Testament? Is it possible to please everyone or are you guaranteed to cause offence? Luckily, the director at the helm is visionary risk-taker Darren Aronofsky, best known for his surreal style in films such as Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream. He makes this epic far more than a dull lesson in religious education but his auteurism is marred by the boundaries of the subject matter. In case anyone is unfamiliar with the story, Noah (Russell Crowe) is a strong family man who receives a spiritual message from God, or The Creator as he is referred to throughout the film. He assumes the responsibility to build an ark to survive an almighty flood, preserve the planet and save it from human destruction. The slant on this version is that there is a villain of the piece Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), who wants to kill Noah and have the ark for himself and his army.
As well as the obvious religious themes, Aronofsky takes a purist look at nature and evolution of the world we live in. From flower picking to meat-eating, any acts deemed harmful to the upkeep of the environment are frowned upon, and sequences which demonstrate growth and development are gloriously presented. In particular, a time-lapse scene in which Noah tells how the Earth was created in seven days is astounding. Teamed with his regular sound expert Clint Mansell, the dark atmosphere and undertones of the film are recognisably Aronofsky-esque, and this is most evident when tackling the psychological torment of the lead. Dreams and imaginings haunt Noah throughout and weigh him down with his incredible burden, skewing his morals and principles with Edenic imagery. The vivid visual elements to the core character arc and the inclusion of stony angels known as The Watchers add fantasy to the plot, and although they had positive affect in terms of the enjoyment of the film, the inventiveness is problematic alongside the original material.
The performances are fine across the board, and the film boasts a star studded cast including Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Watson. Following a questionable run of form, Russell Crowe exerts a powerful screen presence, commanding scenes as he does but it is far from his best turn. He does find his singing voice again, but only briefly. Winstone combats Crowe’s machismo with his trademark swagger, accents from around the globe in full flow. Confrontations between the loggerheads are at times laughable, like two codgers competing for a bus shelter to stay out of the rain, but they seem to be enjoying themselves at least. Whilst the egos clash at the forefront, the female characters simmer away quietly. Initially overshadowed, Connelly and Watson as Noah’s wife and adopted daughter impress more as the plot progresses and come into their own in the final act when the narrative switches focus to family drama territory.
Despite the difficulties faced, Noah achieves what it sets out do to and rejuvenates an old tale to give it cinematic worth on a sizeable scale. The special effects are carried off expertly and the flood is definitely worth seeing on the big screen. The pacing issues and lack of a massive acting performance hold the film back as much as the biblical boundaries but it is bold, brave cinema on a technical level. Darren Aronofsky has in the past tossed away the filmmaking rulebook but here his besmirchment of The Holy Book has garnered some criticism. This to me only highlights his singular vision and passion towards the art form in which he has impressed in again and again.