Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Legend of Barney Thomson
Studio 7
Opens April 8
3 out of 5

Before he found a home as a TV fairy-tale character, Robert Carlyle was one of the edgiest actors around. Between 1995 and 2005 he played the irascible Begbie in Trainspotting, an unemployed stripper in The Full Monty, a cannibal in Ravenous and a wretched patriarch in Angela’s Ashes. Heck, Carlyle was even a Bond villain.

A decade after his heyday, we get a hearty dose of the Robert Carlyle of yore in the black comedy The Legend of Barney Thomson. A barber without people skills, wit or looks, Thomson is on the verge of being pushed out of his job. The man has no one in his corner, not even his mom (a brilliant Emma Thompson), who’s clearly the cause of most of Thomson’s problems.

The very day he gets fired, Thomson accidentally kills his boss and becomes the main suspect in a series of murders in which the perpetrator chops and mails body parts of victims to their unsuspecting families.

Incompetent to the bone, Barney is terrible at lying and getting rid of evidence. He has two things going for him: his more-resourceful-than-expected mother, and the detectives assigned to the investigation who are more interested in battling each other than closing the case.

Robert Carlyle’s performance is within his wheelhouse: easily irritable yet oddly sentimental. The true surprise is his direction — Barney Thomson is as sharp, confident and funny as a first-time effort gets. Carlyle milks every comedic bit for all its worth.

As Barney’s mom, Thompson is crass, self-centered and for the most part heartless, but also profoundly vital. Once you get past the fact the actress is only two years older than Carlyle (the old lady makeup is not convincing), their mother-son act is a memorable one.