Carlyle plays the eponymous protagonist, a forlorn figure, who is on the brink of being sacked from his job at the barbers given his anti-social demeanour and inability to converse enthusiastically with the customers. However his job security soon becomes secondary, as he accidentally starts killing people, inadvertently becoming a serial killer – while his blissful nature keeps the law enforcement, such as the hard-nosed cop Holdall (Ray Winstone) and the competitive Detective Inspector June Robertson (Ashley Jensen), at arms length. Though when he confides in his mother, the eccentric Cemolina (Emma Thompson) – it opens up a whole new can of worms.
There are shades of Psycho to this endeavour, particularly in the intriguing dynamic between Barney and his mother – but it remains very much on the surface level, never truly getting beneath and uncovering the nuances and subtleties to their relationship. The Legend of Barney Thomson, at it’s core, is a deeply sad film, and has the potential to be moving and disquieting – but tonally it’s all over the place. It’s imperative to have moments of light relief, but the comic tendencies are too frequent and feel contrived in their execution, undermining the narrative in the process. Filth is the perfect example of how to straddle that line between comedy, pathos and utter derangement – but it’s exactly where this title suffers.
You do remain on Barney’s side however, which is of great commendation to Carlyle – who makes for an empathetic creation, endearingly clumsy and naïve, with a tendency to be unlucky, that makes him easy to invest in and to root for. However – and while there’s certainly enough here to suggest a decent career lies ahead of Carlyle behind the camera, as with so many actors-turned-directors, it’s a shame he felt the need to take on the lead role himself, feeling like a mere vehicle to provide himself with a good role, similarly to what Russell Crowe managed recently with The Water Diviner.
Nonetheless, this production is unique in many ways, as while evidently inspired by many other filmmakers – with a definite Guy Ritchie influence in the way music is used – it’s still difficult to define. There’s one relatively funny moment when Thompson’s Cemonlina claims to be a big fan of labels, which has you pondering exactly where this film would fit in – and in a sort-of-complimentary way, it doesn’t at all.