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Review: Mugging For Amateurs

July 2, 2012

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

A pair of petty street thieves are on the hunt for a vulnerable target. Following some attempts that don’t even get started and a few bouts of verbal jousting, they hatch a plot that may run into unexpected problems. This is the first film short from Johnny Herbin and was previewed at the Loch Ness film festival. The film stars Calum MacAskill who works primarily in theatre productions and Darren Eggenschwiler, CEO of Production Attic Ltd, an emerging lead production company in Glasgow, served as Director of Photography on the film. Sound man Omar Aborida has already Perfect Sense, Taggart, Rebus & The Stone of Destiny to his name and served as a one-man sound studio for the entire production supervising the audio from recording to final output.

The opening credits are interlaced with footage of a girl walking hastily down the street looking scared. This is a little reminiscent of the opening credits of Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise but without the gritty Brooklyn mise en scene or cool soundtrack, rather a lot more tension. The film’s lack of music and the recognisably gloomy weather over the Glaswegian streets set the tone for this black comedy. The tracking contains an extreme close up of the girl with the two main characters lurking in the background. It seems guaranteed that the audience will be on the victims side from the offset, whoever the victim may be.

One character, Robbie, is teaching the other, Jamie, how to mug people in broad daylight. Neither character is presented as being the sharpest tool in the box as they wait around having amusingly vacant discussions a little reminiscent of Vladimir and Estragon in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The way that Jamie (the pupil) looks up to Robbie (the teacher) and hangs on his every word makes him the more likeable naive Oliver type character to Robbie’s corrupt, amoral Fagan.  What is clever is that the characters are amusing and at points funny. With no back story or explanation as to why they want to mug people they feel alien and their inability, stupidity and strange view on the world makes them comically stupid. When justifying mugging an old lady, Robbie claims that she can’t have got to her age without ‘screwing over a few folk’. These characters are judging the world by their own standards and this is used by them as a kind of justification for their actions. The audience simply shake their heads.

The use of point-of-view shots, especially when they are watching an old lady and planning to mug her with a knife, adds a sense of tension and dread. Following a prolonged period of discussion they miss their chance. There is the clever use of low angle shots of two pigeons (animals often referred to as vermin) flying away, referring to the unprecedented confidence and inherent cowardice we’ve encountered through the characters’ words and behaviour so far. The editing is quite fast, relatively ambitious, and includes a range of shots to keep up the tension and reflect the characters nervous energy.

On the third and final attempt to mug someone the characters separate and Jamie’s Mother shows up. Without giving the game away, the film ends with the wannabe villains fleeing the scene after Jamie receives his just deserts in what is a very comical scene. There couldn’t have been a more fitting victim in the end of this very entertaining dark Scottish comedy.

Kerry Flint.