1964, and Mullan hones in on the adolescent male as opposed to the female. But both films share the same focus: the unsentimental education of teenagers who expect a better future. In Neds we follow the story of a fresh-faced, innocent young boy who is surprisingly and gradually transformed into a NED – a non-educated deliquent.
Shy and reticent, young John is initiated into the rough world of a new school. Local bullies lurk at every intersection and make his first days hell. He also has to shrug off the reputation his older brother had made at the same school. Expelled for excessive violence, Benny is now a wild rebel, but his reputation comes in handy at key moments when his younger brother is in danger of being beaten up. John is an intelligent and engaged lad but, as he learns to navigate the waters of his new environment, he takes a turn for the worse.
As Neds jumps ahead in time, the older John has turned into a violent teenager, eager to dole out punishment to those who tormented him in earlier days. It doesn’t help that his father is a wild alcoholic, given to angry bouts of verbal abuse. As John attempts to deal with his family and friends, he only seems to dig himself into a deeper and deeper hole. Will there be a way out?
Mullan’s style is kitchen-sink realism pushed to the limit. Others have been here before, but he brings a gritty verisimilitude to every moment of this often dark and despairing portrait of troubled youth. Ironically, we never lose our sympathy for John, despite the depths to which he descends, and Mullan once again proves that his skills as a director match those as an actor. –TIFF