Orphans

on March 10, 2000 by Mike Kerrigan
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   This is the directorial debut of Scottish acting mainstay Peter Mullan ("Trainspotting," "Braveheart," "Shallow Grave" and many more, including the wonderful "My Name is Joe"). It is set in his native Glasgow but it is a tough, uncompromising Glasgow, closer to the classic '50s gang novel "No Mean City" than the place named European City of Culture in the '90s. The only culture in this movie is growing on the walls of the damp tenements.
   The story revolves around the three sons and a daughter whose mother has just died. How these very different people cope with their loss, and each other, is rich in drama and also in humor. Mullan finds black comedy in the most unlikely places and shows enormous skill in keeping the audience on the hook. Scene after masterful scene leaves us unsure whether to laugh or to cry.
   It is a wonderfully constructed script that doesn't telegraph any of its punches. And it contains two or three sequences which are absolutely original. One of the brothers has words with a tyrannical pub landlord who bundles him through a door that turns out not to be the exit but the cellar. To his amazement he finds other customers who have been similarly treated, patiently waiting for the cops to be called so they can be jailed on the landlord's complaint. "What are you in for?" asks one of the patrons.
   Mullen is well served by a brilliant cast. The acting has a totally natural quality; frequently it feels closer to documentary than fiction. It is grim and gritty, not to mention frequently violent, but amazingly there is still a feeling of optimism. There is decency amid all the decay.
   The film is being released with subtitles in an effort to make sense of the occasionally impenetrable Glasgow dialect. But frequently they actually detract. The rhythm of the language and the context make things perfectly clear.    Starring Gary Lewis, Douglas Henshall, Rosemarie Stevenson and Stephen McCole. Directed and written by Peter Mullan. Produced by Frances Higson. A Shooting Gallery release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 102 min.
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