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As a Glaswegian, I was certainly aware of the real-life main criminal characters in this film without knowing all the ins and outs of who did what to whom, when and why. I largely looked in vain however for actual Glasgow locations, although the notes here tell me that's because the local police refused cooperation, which isn't hard to understand, watching the film.
The film itself is a tough, often violent look at turf wars in Glasgow and in particular the rival bosses fighting it out for control and centres on Paul Ferris, a very well known character in these parts. It tells his story using childhood flashbacks to demonstrate the influence of his old-fashioned tough-love father, his friendship with two childhood buddies, whose fates at the end of the film help convince Ferris to go straight at last and of course his introduction to violence amongst both police and thieves which helped lead him on his criminal path.
The story itself of a gangster's rise and fall isn't original and doesn't really aim for any great dynamism or originality in the direction either. Its striving for realism is limited by the afore-mentioned substitution for Glasgow by London, the noticeable (but not unwelcome) tempering of the way brutal beatings-up and shootings are depicted, plus the character acting in the cast isn't completely consistent.
Martin Compston is slightly restricted in his portrayal of the titular character Paul Ferris by his baby-face demeanour but otherwise carries off a tricky, if clichéd part with plenty of conviction. John Hannah as a scheming would-be kingpin and Denis Lawson as Ferris's father lend experience to their parts and probably stand out accordingly from the rest of the cast.
One could argue that the film is skewered too much in favour of Ferris's viewpoint and indeed the criminal lifestyle and modus-operandi altogether with the police and prison officials invariably shown as corrupt, barbaric and above the law they supposedly serve. Nevertheless the story, though hindered by the intrusive insertions of flashbacks to young Paul, in a failed attempt to demonstrate the child being father to the man, has a kinetic energy which keeps you watching until the bitter end.
Not an easy watch or even a great watch, but otherwise a good attempt at a contemporary true-crime story.
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