The Debt Collector

*

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

For thrillers to grip, they must have muscle. This has gout. Anthony Neilson's debut as writer/director takes the Jimmy Boyle story (without acknowledgement) of the Glasgow gangland murderer turned artist. He then gives it a twist in the direction many people thought it would go, back to violence and murder.

Not only is comedian-actor Billy Connolly miscast, but the idea that loony cop, Keltie (Ken Stott), would decide after Dryden (the Boyle figure) has been out of jail for years, cleaned up his act, married a middle-class lady (Francesca Annis), written a best-seller, become a fashionable sculptor and socialite, to remind the smart folk of Edinburgh what a nasty man he was, is so far over the wall as to be out of sight.

It appears that Neilson has a grudge against Boyle, one time hardman for the Glasgow gangs, and is using film to pose the question, can a leopard change its spots? Obviously not, according to him. Obviously so, according to real life.

The vendetta theme looks more like envy. Keltie cannot stand the thought that someone who used to beat up mothers and wives to squeeze money out of their men, could now be rich and famous, while he still lives with his mum (Annette Crosbie), failing to protect the public from bully scum like Dryden. Where's the justice in that? It is an unforgiving, reactionary attitude, more in line with a Michael Winner movie.

The pace is slow. Scenes hold so long, you wonder whether the director is out to lunch. Neilson's work in theatre has attuned him to actors - he is one himself, as well as a writer. Stott, Annis and Iain Robertson (the boy from "Small Faces"), as a street punk who idolises Dryden, give fine performances. Connolly has a hard time. He has to be passive (the new nice guy Dryden), while hiding a vicious streak (the old evil bastard Dryden) and is uncomfortable with both.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A debt collector turned sculptor finds himself dragged back into a life of crime.
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Director: Anthony Nielson

Writer: Anthony Nielson

Starring: Billy Connolly, Ken Stott, Francesca Annis, Iain Robertson, Annette Crosbie, Alastair Galbraith, Shauna Macdonald, Sandy Neilson, Julie Wilson Nimmo, Alan Francis, James Thomson

Year: 1999

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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