UK 1999

Reviewed by Kim Newman


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Scotland. After the murder of the Caledonian newspaper's proprietor Sir Toby McCormack, Cameron Colley, a journalist on the newspaper, is under a cloud because of rashly expressed left-wing views. He is receiving tips from a source who calls himself Archer who hints at connections between an arms-trading scandal and a series of murders of establishment figures who have used their power to shield them from the consequences of their unethical business practices. Cameron is having an affair with childhood friend Yvonne, wife of amiable Tory businessman William, and reflects on his relationship with his other long-time friends, Andy and Claire Gould.

Andy has benefited hugely from William's buy-out of his business and gone to ground in a crumbling mansion, while his sister Claire, an unconventional drop-out, died some time ago after an inept locum doctor prescribed paracetamol for a heart attack. When a down-sizing whisky tycoon is drowned in his own product and a weapons dealer is literally disarmed, the police haul Cameron in for questioning and tell him that a burned body identified as Andy has been found. Cameron reveals to Detective Chief Inspector McDunn that when they were children he and Andy were attacked by a paedophile tramp; Cameron knocked the man out as he was molesting Andy who then killed the tramp. Cameron works out that Andy, who has faked his own death, is Archer, the murderer. Andy then kills both the doctor who misdiagnosed Claire and William, who was laundering money through his old company. Then Cameron is kidnapped by Andy. After explaining his motives, Andy lets his friend go, accepting his complicity in both the evils of society and his murderous reaction to them.


Most of Gavin Millar's directorial credits have been vaguely literary and resolutely televisual (the theatrically released Dreamchild and Danny the Champion of the World were hybrid ventures that worked just as well on the small screen as on the big). His first stab at novelist Iain Banks, author of Complicity, was a superior four-part BBC television serial based on The Crow Road. In this follow-up, which had a theatrical release in Scotland but is a direct-to-video item in the rest of the UK, a transitional fade half way through suggests it might originally have been scripted as a television two-parter. This, as much as Millar's innate good taste, would explain the toning-down of the book's graphic violence (which at times reads like passages from American Psycho) as the "fitting punishment" murders committed by an unseen vigilante, whom the police suspect is journalist Cameron Colley, are reduced to almost throwaway flashes.

There are stretches of kinky sex courtesy of Yvonne, who gets Cameron to fulfil rape and bondage fantasies, and horror images which bring to mind Seven when an arms dealer is found with limbs cut off and an incompetent doctor dissected and displayed in an Edinburgh shop window. But the film still feels like a polite, careful literary adaptation, which ironically disarms much of the book's calculated disreputability. Jonny Lee Miller's Cameron dutifully chain-smokes, snorts coke, plays violent video games and screws his friend's wife, but the boyish actor is too clean a presence to suggest his character actually enjoys any of this, which sets him up too easily to be the moral arbiter of the climax.

The novel switches its narrative address between first and second person to blur the identity of Cameron and the killer, but the film can only set its protagonist up as a conventional 'wrong man', framed by the murderer and suspected by the cops. The somewhat obvious late-in-the-day flashback that reveals the childhood trauma which set the killer on his road to mass murder is also a variant on the old Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) gambit in which two young friends grow up on different sides of the law because one can run faster than the other.

The novel was published in 1993, and is imbued with the preceding decade and a half of Scottish politics, with the Conservatives as the arch villains ("Tories are bad" is the only argument Cameron feels he needs to make when challenged by William and Andy, who have just voted to re-elect Margaret Thatcher). The film updates the action by a few years, with diehard Conservative supporter William's strategic contribution to both major political parties hinting at New Labour's imminent success. Though the background of social conflict, which for Banks is a political rather than a national issue, is revived with conviction, the grounding of the personal fable in the scandals of the recent past (arms to Iraq, money-laundering) gives the film a curiously dated air (there's conspicuously no mention of the Scottish Nationalists, the National Assembly or even Europe). Wasting Bill Paterson and Brian Cox in conventional roles, Millar casts Trainspotting refugee Miller as the lead. But he shies away from the apt, if disreputable approach Danny Boyle might have taken to the interesting material.


Gavin Millar
Richard Jackson
Neil Dunn
Bryan Elsley
Based on the novel by
Iain Banks
Director of Photography
David Odd
Angus Newton
Production Designer
Jamie Leonard
Colin Towns
©Complicity Productions Limited
Production Companies
Carlton Films presents
in association with the Scottish Arts Council National Lottery Fund a Talisman production Developed with the assistance of British Screen Finance Ltd
Executive Producers
Julia Palau
Michael Ryan
Andrew Warren
Peter McAleese
Production Associate
Anna Sofroniou
Production Co-ordinator
Karen McLuskey
Production Manager
Brian Kaczynski
Location Manager
Janet Riddoch
Maria Walker
Fleur Fontaine
Assistant Directors
Tommy Gormley
Sarah Purser
Mark Murdoch
David Gilchrist
Alison Goring
Michael Queen
Script Supervisors
Libbie Barr
Elizabeth Sherry
Casting Director
Susie Bruffin
Additional Photography
John Else
Camera Operators
Lewis Foster
Jeremy Braben
Steadicam Operator
Jan Pester
Special Effects
Effects Associates
Graphics Consultant
Adam Piggot
Supervising Art Director
Paul Kirby
Costume Designer
Kate Carin
Costume Supervisor
Amanda Craze
Wardrobe Mistress
Dena Thanopoulos
Chief Make-up/Hair Designer
Jenny Shircore
Make-up Artists
Nuala Conway
Caroline Hamilton
Elaine Coburn
Samantha Print
Fiona Maynard
Sarah Kramer
Catherine Muir
Prosthetics Effects
Animated Extras
General Screen Enterprises
Music Performed by
Orchestra of London
Tenor Saxophone
Tommy Smith
"Ball" - Craig Armstrong; "Denial", "Paperboat" - Gramophone; "Beautiful Day" - 3 Colours Red; "Groovy Train" - The Farm; "Freeman Hardy & Willis Acid" - Squarepusher; "Lochaber No More"; "Stay Focused" - awayTeam featuring Solid Rox; "Different Kind of Blue" - Gay Dad; "Pumping on the Stereo" - Supergrass; "Rocks" - Primal Scream; "Straight to Hell" - The Clash
Production Sound Mixer
Colin Nicolson
Additional Sound Recordist
Alan Brereton
Jamie Karsai
Re-recording Mixer
Craig Irving
Dialogue Editor
Colin Ritchie
Effects Editor
Richard Fettes
John Bateman
Colin Ritchie
Peter Burgess
Andie Derrick
John Bateman
Robert Gavin
Additional Editor:
Gordon Greenaway
Stunt Co-ordinator
Peter Brayham
Bernard Shepherd
Creature Feature
Helicopter Pilots
Dominic Lawlor
John Constable
Jonny Lee Miller
Cameron Colley
Brian Cox
DCI McDunn
Keeley Hawes
Paul Higgins
Andy Gould
Jason Hetherington
Bill Paterson
Wallace Byatt
Samuel West
Laura Ellis
McCormack's mistress
Alan Sinclair
Sir Toby McCormack
Alex Norton
Kenny Garnet
Valerie Edmond
Josephine Boyle
Paul Young
Katy Hale
Alex Purves
Rachael Stirling
Claire Gould
John Murtagh
Michael MacKenzie
Julie Austin
distillery secretary
Stephen McCole
David Kerr
young Cameron
Richard Madden
young Andy
Stephanie Boyle
young Yvonne
Laura O'Donnell
young Claire
Jackie Farrell
security man
Andy Gray
DS Flavell
Graham De Banzie
Archie McLeod
Gary McCormack
David Gallacher
country policeman
Joseph Accerelli
Gordon Munro
Ford Kiernan
William Macbain
Carter Ferguson
armed policeman
Lucy McLellan
Entertainment Film Distributors Ltd
8,996 feet
99 minutes 58 seconds
Dolby digital
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011