Review: The Legend of Barney Thomson

Robert Carlyle directs and stars in a Glaswegian’s answer to a Tarantino film!

Barney Thomson is an awkward, single and sheltered 50-something barber living in Glasgow in Scotland with an overbearing mother. His life has been uneventful and he’s happy with that, but when he’s involved in an accident that kills his boss and simultaneously the police are looking for a serial killer… his life is about to go off the rails.

The Legend of Barney Thomson is a love or hate situation for the wider audience, but that is common for most black comedies. I personally found it entertaining enough, but I cannot say I laughed a great deal; it has incredibly dry humour, and a little bit repetitive over the course of the movie. When I reflect on it I imagine it like a long macabre Monty Python sketch.

Robert Carlyle is very good in the lead role as Barney Thomson, who we are introduced as a man to be avoided in this barber shop: “You look like a haunted tree” explains his boss, and he really does! But as the film goes on we see him as a very timid shut-in, and Carlyle portrayed it perfectly, especially as the odds are stacked so heavily against him. Alongside him is Emma Thompson as his mother (though one questions the age gap between the actors themselves) a woman who wants nothing to do with him apart from use him any way she can to go on parties with her friends, and Ray Winstone as a bitter, grudge-ridden police officer on the verge of breakdown. The three of them are actually very good in their roles, and I say that as someone who generally doesn’t care for Winstone in most of his roles.

But while the actors look like they are having a good time, and it is great to see familiar “everyday” Glasgow streets specifically around the Bridgeton area, for a black comedy it didn’t feel especially funny or even quotable. It has swearing, a lot of swearing, and a lot of Glaswegian (poor Americans may need subtitles!) to promote its humour. There were a couple of laughs, but for me it got a little repetitive as time went on, and it certainly jumps the shark for good measure at its climax. Where did that come from?

At best it is a curiosity as Carlyle’s debut in the director’s chair, and for Scots, but even as I write this review I consider it entertaining but intensely cliched and repetitive.

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