On paper, The Wee Man appears to be an impressive entry into the over-saturated British Gangster genre. Martin Compston, Patrick Bergin, Dennis Lawson and John Hannah topline this Glasgow set gangster flick. However, a solid cast does not a good movie make – and The Wee Man comes across as under developed and poorly written.
Based on a true story, The Wee Man charts the rise Paul Ferris, a Glaswegian crime lord, with a strong code of honour. It shows how he went from bullied weakling to gun-toting hard-case, but the fractured narrative doesn’t quite work. It would seem that director Ray Burdis wants to make a British (Scottish?) Goodfellas, but he just doesn’t have the right material (he’s got nobody to blame but himself – he wrote it). The boyhood story of Ferris doesn’t ring true. It’s too undercooked and you don’t feel that the young actor seen in early scenes shares the same characterization as Compston.
Compston is a good actor, but he underplays Ferris to such an extent that he doesn’t seem dangerous. He comes across as something of a lost soul, rather than an underworld threat. Other characters talk about Ferris’ might in his absence, but it doesn’t match-up with the role Compston is playing on screen. It’s a good performance, but it’s the wrong part. Bergin is also good as the ageing Glaswegian Godfather, but his role is so generic that he’s not given anything to work with that we haven’t seen before in a dozen other gangster films. Lawson and Hannah are also solid with their work, but again, their characters feel like sketches from screen-writing 101 than rather fully realised roles.
The Wee Man isn’t terrible, but it comes across like a hard-edged ITV production – it’s gritty and grim, but with no real depth. You have to work hard to create a gangster film (especially a British gangster film) that feels original and The Wee Man doesn’t do this. It’s as if all involved think that beginning the film with “based on true events” means they can skimp on solid writing.
The Wee Man comes with a pair of commentaries – one from writer/director Ray Burdis and star Martin Compston. They’re decent chat-tracks, but they both seem to believe that the movie is much better than it really is. There’s also 20 minute making-of, which is good, but again filled with a lot of back-slapping. A solid package, for a below par movie.