Down Among the Big Boys (1993)
Director: Charles Gormley
Screenwriter: Peter McDougall
Starring: Billy Connolly, Douglas Henshall, Rab Affleck, Ewan Stewart, Ashley Jensen, Gary Lewis, Billy Boyd
Released in 1993, Down Among the Big Boys came at possibly the worst time in Scottish Cinema history. A few years removed from Bill Forsyth’s transition to making films in America, but also a few years away from a surge of successful Scottish releases like Trainspotting, My Name is Joe and Ratcatcher, and with no bankable stars such as Bill Paterson or Ewan McGregor, the industry was on its knees, turning to the comic but at the time by no means guaranteed acting talents of the likes of Billy Connolly to prop up lesser known releases. Nearly 30 years on it’s easy to see why this period of Scottish film has been so largely forgotten when any number of its most notable films, including this Peter McDougall and Charles Gormley feature, headed straight to the BBC on television, but with star Billy Connolly now reaching his self-confessed twilight in his battle with Parkinson’s and the resurgence of old BBC projects across their platforms, it seems that Down Among the Big Boys may be due a resurgence in popularity. Whether it’s deserving of that or not is another question entirely…
Down Among the Big Boy’s’ screenplay is perhaps this film’s most impressive and stand out feature. The film follows Louie (Douglas Henshall), a local detective who is set to marry the daughter of glaswegian crime boss JoJo (Billy Connolly) the same week that JoJo is planning a bank robbery. It makes for an incredibly interesting story similar to the likes of Michael Mann’s Heat, only with an added family dynamic between the protagonist and antagonist in order to make the relationship between the two characters that bit more intense.
Smart, witty and unique, the premise and its delivery is at times superb, but for every clever line of dialogue there is a cheesy one right around the corner and for every enthralling action sequence there is an equally as boring family dinner, the tale of this film being one of ups and downs and a limiting of its true potential.
The direction from Charles Gormley is perhaps the biggest culprit in this sense, adding very little flare in any way and generally creating a pretty stilted watching experience for the most part. His uninspired work is as safe and “block, record, repeat” as most television direction was at the time, and Down Among the Big Boys seemingly deserved more.
The film does host a cast of regular faces that improve the viewing experience however. Actors such as Rab Affleck, Ewan Stewart, Ashley Jensen, Gary Lewis and Billy Boyd support leads Connolly and Henshall, making for practically a who’s who of Scottish acting talent. The ensemble of character actors each put in competent performances but seem stalled by Gormley’s poor direction, again asserting the notion that there was something greater to be born out of this project than that which we eventually received.
All things considered, Down Among the Big Boys is a disappointing and considerably dull watch, the good aspects of the movie simply not being enough to raise the film to a higher standard, and the bad qualities of the film tearing apart the potential that it so very clearly once had.
Although the film itself will almost certainly remain a mere blip on the radar, it is worth its place on everyone’s watchlists even if only to see how far the Scottish Film industry has come in the near three decades since.