DC Jackson’s foray into the Scottish badlands is a well-trodden path, perhaps, coming over as a soupcon of Irvine Welsh and a pinch of Tarantino, but it mostly plays with its own genre: too absurdist and self-aware by half to be the Tartan Noir it both homages and pillories.
Bumbling wannabe hitmen, chubby Skootch ( Josh Whitelaw,shrieking and posturing in his ridiculous white suit, one-note) and handsome, more reluctant Dominic (Philip Cairns, superb) are ‘taking care of business’ for local Glasgow gangster MacPherson (Paul Sampson), but their plans backfire and very soon there are more bullet points created than can be found in a dodgy banker’s dossier.
Performances are mostly excellent, particularly by David Ireland in the titular role- he is a vicious, ex- Loyalist Paramilitary thug who likes a spot of killing, child molesting and the music of Aswad , and who would shoot his wee Mammy for a fiver. Kern Falconer almost outclasses all in the first ten minutes with his creepy, taciturn Auld Jim, feeding corpses to his pigs, a dirty old man who exists in a hinterland between Beckett and Jigsaw from the Saw film series. Jackson’s dialogue crackles with tension and the swift slap of bruising one-liners- he has an ear for Fife dialect and Northern Ireland cadences, as well as more typically Weegie lines. Some of the one-liners are perfect (‘Skootch is as mad as a clown’s cock’) the profanity almost poetic at times, the prose purple as well as blue.
The attention to detail is fantastic: Michael Taylor’s set design has a truly filthy backwoods locale for Auld Jim; contrasting neatly with the kind of bad taste only dirty money can buy, right down to a naff Jim (cousin of Jack) Vetriano ‘erotic’ print on the wall of a posh flat; the guns’ pops make everyone jump each time, and the squealing pigs enhance the apposite undercurrent of menace, as all good horrors should. And this is a horror.
Yet, something feels a little off in the execution – as it were. The main problem is Jackson’s characterisation- there is simply not one character who is even remotely likeable – obviously, this is a gangster black comedy farce, but one sympathetic person with a little decency and nuance would be worthwhile. All are simply stereotypes, even Dominic’s odious wannabe girlfriend Kimberly (an impressive Joanne Thomson) , all behave exactly as expected. Glendenning himself is baffling, in that he is eloquent to the point of lyrical verbosity, yet struggles with basic grammar in the interviews for his book (simply titled Bastard, and brilliantly mocked-up on Amazon on a screen before the second half resumes).
Mark Thomson’s direction is a little stifling, ramping up the energy levels to boiling point, only leaving a slow reveal in the second half as the structure reverses, but the casual misogyny of the ending leaves a sour taste, like being force-fed back copies of Glasgow crime magazine The Digger. A shame to end in that way, as there is so much to like elsewhere.