(Peter Mullan, 2010)
Mullan possesses an unusual sensibility as director. His films are fiercely emotional (not just this coming-of-age gang drama, but Orphans, his debut, and the acclaimed The Magdalane Sisters), but contain surreal elements, vivid religious imagery, a fascination with violence; and are models of storytelling clarity and subtle thematic content.
NEDS is probably his best film. A powerfully gruelling story of one young mans near-destruction by his involvement in youth gangs, there are elements of autobiography here, which may explain the emotional wallop this narrative delivers. Mullan was very probably picked on and isolated at school by his cleverness, and joining a a gang has always been a universal, obvious and accepted attempt to fit in. In the film, gang violence is an empowering spectacle, then it is a dangerous insanity, and as our protagonist pushes himself beyond his own limits, it acquires a distorted sort of horror movie edge.
As a writer, Mullan displays much empathy for these people, and the emotional details of so many moments are captured beautifully; from the terror of random bullying to the first thrill of adolescent rebellion.
It's a simple tale, simply told, and all the better for it.
Mullan's feel for place and character is unerring, and he draws some magnificent work from his young cast. And if it all sounds a bit rote and familiar, then the surreal touches and religious imagery may be what lift it - the final scene combines the two into something strange, wonderful and more than a little affecting.