Martin Compston takes on the role of Ferris – and we watch on as a life of crime takes hold of this impressionable youngster. Growing up in 70’s Glasgow, a young Ferris has to learn that the streets can be a rough place, and despite taking strong advice from his father (Denis Lawson), years of torment at the hands of a local group of thugs sends Ferris down the wrong path.
A few years on and Ferris – now a young adult – finally gives in to his violent compulsions when he brutally stabs his tormentors, and the thrill felt when doing so gives him a rush like no other. He is then scouted by the ‘Godfather’ of crime Arthur Thompson (Patrick Bergin), and he begins to work for the feared gangster. Ferris’ burgeoning reputation provokes the displeasure of Thompson’s son ‘Fat Boy’ (Stephen McCole), who is left overridden with guilt, and rival mobster Tam McGrawn (John Hannah) picks up on the tension. He then attempts to turn them both against each other, transpiring in much blood spilled, with Ferris caught up in the middle of the crossfire.
Burdis does a good job in humanising Ferris, enabling the audience to empathise with his plight. We are made to feel sorry for him, which therefore brings us closer to the character, allowing us more of an emotional investment to the overall story. However in doing so, it does come across as a little too defensive of Ferris, as though we are always taking his side. That’s not a problem as such, but given he is a violent man, guilty of some horrific crimes, we need to fear him, or at least feel some disdain towards him, yet this isn’t truly the case given the way the film is structured. Effectively Ferris is portrayed as the protagonist, the good guy, someone who had little option but to get into a life of crime. There are also people involved even more villainous, which means we almost end up rooting for him, which seems somewhat unjust.
We also don’t capture Ferris’ decline, as when this pleasant, well-brought up kid finds himself heading down the wrong path rapidly, we don’t fully get a sense of this dramatic transition, unlike in a film such as A Prophet, for example. This isn’t a criticism of Compston, however, who does a fine job in the role – capturing both the timid and aggressive sides to Ferris’ demeanour. The underrated actor shines, alongside Hannah, who is sinister and unpredictable in his role.
Although being a well-made film, Burdis does seem a little too inclined to steer down the path of shock value, which is often less effective than simply insinuating it. For example, there is a scene where an inmate is found hanging in his prison cell, and we know exactly what has happened given the officer’s reaction when opening the door, and his line of vision when scanning the room. However rather than leave it at that, we then cut to a shot of the man himself – something we simply don’t need to see as it lessens the impact.
On the whole, The Wee Man is a fascinating story well told – the first steps in making a decent movie. And in contrast to the violent subject matter, there lurks a rather droll Scottish humour hidden away in this film. Although a brief note to British filmmakers; please, stop killing dogs in the opening 10 minutes of films. I really like dogs.