Longtime actor Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting) makes his directorial debut with Barney Thomson. He establishes a deft ability to incorporate a dark tone in a macabre screwball comedy about accidentally killings. Not bad for a first time director.
Carlyle stars as the titular Barney Thomson. He is an awkward barber in Glasgow, who mostly keeps to himself and not paid much attention to. He has been a barber for a long time but has yet to ever have a chance to be in the primo chair of the shop. No one really seems to like or respect Barney. Even his own mother (Emma Thompson) doesn’t really care for him and treats speaking to him as a bit of a chore.
Barney’s boring, mediocre life is suddenly upended when he accidentally stabs his boss. The two were in a heated exchange but Barney absolutely didn’t mean to kill his boss. He may be awkward, but he isn’t a murderer.
From that point on – as one could imagine – Barney’s life will never be the same. He is forced into a constant game of cat-and-mouse with an inspector (Ray Winstone), who ends up not trusting Barney. Every attempt Barney makes to cover up his tracks, his life just becomes more and more complicated.
Carlyle mines the awkwardness of Barney well and convincingly. After the unfortunate situation occurs with his boss at the barber shop, Barney spends his life looking over his shoulder. Every sound, every sudden movement makes him twitch and we believe he is a man who regrets his actions and was not prepared to live the consequences.
With all of that being said, let’s talk about Thompson. Last year, was not a fair year for the British actress, who is one of our great talents. She’s sassy, funny and believable in every role she takes. Last year, Thompson appeared in A Walk in the Woods and Burnt and was given two thankless roles. In Barney Thompson she is transformed into Barney’s mom (even though she isn’t that much older than Carlyle). At first, her performance seems gimmicky – underneath all of that elderly make up and screechy accent – but Thompson quickly steals every scene she’s in. She strikes fear into Barney and into us as viewers.
The film’s full title is Barney Thomson (The Legend of Barney Thomson), an unnecessary but fitting moniker. Barney isn’t a legend to anyone but himself and ultimately decides his story will be a legend. It’s kind of a self-imposed parenthetical description of how he eventually sees himself.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
Barney Thomson won’t leave much of an impression in your mind but Carlyle’s directorial debut is fun and dark, straightforward and well-paced, with strong performances from Carlyle and Emma Thompson, who plays his mother.