It's hard to believe that almost nine years have passed since Peter Mullan's harrowing 'The Magdalene Sisters' rocked the Catholic Church when it was released in 2002. This time around the talented Glaswegian writer/director tells a raw, Seventies coming of age tale, 'Neds'.
A 'Ned' or 'Non-Educated Delinquent' is the Scottish term for troubled youths, and the Ned in question is John McGill, an intelligent, sensitive Glasgow teen who shatters his bright future when he joins a local gang.
Mullan has described the film as personal but not autobiographical, and he has much in common with McGill. Like Mullan, McGill is rebuffed by the middle classes due to his inner city Glasgow upbringing and rebuked by his peers due to his intelligence. Like McGill, Mullan was raised by Catholic parents, with an abusive alcoholic father and gang-affiliated older brother, earning street cred plus a longed-for sense of identity by joining up.
However, the major difference is that Mullan got out, or was kicked out, of the gang before it was too late. McGill goes on to become a ruthless, knife-wielding psychopath whose extreme behaviour intimidates even the hardiest bucks.
The effect of feeling like an outcast, mixed with his father's addiction, results in more psychological damage than anyone could have anticipated, but there is nowhere for John to turn. He resorts to sadistic behaviour, uncompromising violence and substance abuse with a group of boys playing hard at being men.
Picture a tough working class environment and it's all there; tightly packed tenement buildings, strict teachers with liberal use of corporal punishment and verbal abuse, kids smoking in the toilets, lurking in the playground and bullying going dangerously unchecked.
It may be 30 years ago but, corporal punishment aside, too little has changed and the destructive brawn over brains story is timeless.
Mullan has chosen a superb, all-Scottish, mostly unknown cast and the accents are so strong that the film had to be subtitled for its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. McCarron is convincing as the older John and 'The Daisy Chain's Anderson is one to watch as his younger sister.
The only thing more colourful than the language is the humour. Just when the drama becomes too intense, he lightens the shade with humorous, quick-witted dialogue, clever use of Monty Python's 'Battle of Pearl Harbour' sketch and classic teacher-student exchanges.
Mullan's performance as the father is haunting - a reminder of the talent that earned him the Cannes Best Actor Award for Ken Loach's 'My Name is Joe'.
'Trainspotting's rep is still intact for its brilliant use of music in film, however thanks to BAFTA winner Craig Armstrong, 'Neds' is a contender. He juxtaposes chirpy numbers such as The New Seekers' 'You Won't Find Another Fool Like Me' and a cover of Irving Berlin's 'Cheek to Cheek' with violent clashes. The results are unnerving and unforgettable.
The film may not pack as hard a punch as 'The Magdalene Sisters', as the lid has already been blown off the destruction caused by child abuse and corporal punishment is a thing of the past. However, 'Neds' is compelling viewing in its depiction of the effects of that abuse and the gang culture trap, which is as relevant today as it was in the Seventies.
Mullan has just finished work on Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's 'War Horse' but no matter what exciting acting project lies ahead, here's hoping we don't have to wait another eight-plus years to see him in the director's chair again.