Two lads in Edinburgh embark on a non-violent spree of robberies. They dress up in clown masks and act as modern highwaymen, robbing coach loads of tourists in the highlands. In the process they become folk heroes to the locals. Their adventures make for a whimsical and gentle comedy, in the Bill Forsyth vein.
Alan Burns <[email protected]>
User Reviews: Restless Natives will begin with a series of intimidating compositions introducing to us two young men in ownership of a motorcycle and whom appear to be somewhat less than hospitable. In close up format of various parts of their bodies, the pair don helmets and leather clothing to an ominous drum beating periodically so as to ride out into the rural nothingness of what turns out to be the Scottish highlands. They are there to rob, thieve and steal from the hapless people inhabiting vehicles whom may make their way down the remote road nearby; and when one car does arrive housing an upper-class English family out on holiday, they fail to impose themselves and the attempted robbery actually turns into a coming to the aid of the lost family. The film jumps from one thing to another in relatively quick time, painting an image of the people we’re supposed to be dealing with before effectively demythifying them as these amateurish and rather hapless young men trying to raise money. Therein lies the nature of the film, a piece going to impressive lengths to deconstruct and explore two young Scottish men as well as their lives and mindsets after being later labelled as something else, in what is an an edifying and thoroughly engaging little British film from 1985 which really hits the marks it aims for.
Vincent Friell plays one of them, named Will; a young man who’s the son of a married couple and a brother to one sister living a working class life in Scotland. He sweeps roads, but maintains a healthy relationship with his family and other young friend of equal age Ronnie (Mullaney), a local kid who’s an employee of the town’s joke shop. Both of the boys are at a stage in their lives in which aspirations are appearing to form and the moulding of the early stages of adulthood appear ostensible, with both boy’s issues and problems primarily work and girl orientated; Will despises his luckless job as a road sweeper and running the joke shop can be rather a pain for Ronnie. One day, out of sheer blind maddening suggestion in what effectively begins as a bit of fun, they decide to use some joke shop equipment in a pair of masks, a toy Luger pistol and a foam gun; ride up into the hills as they’ve done so before and rob coach loads of tourists. What follows is a film which hops from coming of age tale; to romance; to police procedural thriller all wrapped up into one really effective delivery.
American director Michael Hoffman, working from a Ninian Dunnett script, keeps everything in check; aside from the romp that it is, Restless Natives is ultimately a cautionary tale about the pratfalls of crime and a somewhat lowly conceived adopting of celebrity status. Aside from anything else, it is a very good and very involving one. The two attain somewhat of a cult following as the police, led by Ned Beatty’s character, struggle to apprehend them; effectively rendering them Robin Hood figures in that their taking from the people specifically there so as to pump money back into the system, through tourism, before distributing the cash to, on occasion, the homeless around the area. An irony here reading something along the lines of tourism in the area booming like rarely before, because of the potential at being held up by these two or the chance of catching a glimpse of them. The social affect the two anonymous thieves have on everybody is highlighted in Will’s own father’s (played by Bernard Hill) natural reaction to them upon a newspaper report; here being a man whom berates the charge on his gas bill before complimenting the two bandits on their work he deems was was only going to pump money back into the already established-to-be-greedy system in the first place.
Things become complicated when Will spies local tour guide Margot (Lally) during one of the runs, the venturing to the coach depot a dangerous ploy in the face of blind affection to do what he does in attempting to find her so as to woo her. Margot’s attraction to Will is natural and unforced, her fascination with folk figures or mythical people whom have gone on to become legends, or whatnot, is the reason she’s a tour guide thanks to her knowledge on such things; in Will, a person whom has been previously labelled exactly this is right in front of her and beginning to interact with her. Complications arise, people close to the leads begin to discover the truths surrounding them and Will’s own relationship with Ronnie hits its own barriers when the moral implications of their actions are explored.
Hoffman balances all of the strands, characters and content really well; Will’s actions eventually seeing him congratulated by a shady English criminal at a local snooker club as well as those of a similar sort around him. The club of which is decked out in a dangerous red shade, those located within of a criminal mindset and here highlighting the path Will seems to have been given the opportunity to go down should he so wish; his brief newfound sense of friendship with these people echoing what he had before with Ronnie in the joke shop. The locales are key here, the joke shop being an operative place of business more broadly representing a righteous and moral way of life through earning a living; with the snooker club and most of those whom inhabit it a path more representative of an immoral or sinful way of life, somewhere by which robbing people effectively gets you. Restless Natives appears to be the sort of rare find one just doesn’t discover, and at a time when the current climate of coming of age tales are mostly processions of crass and putrid sex jokes, it is a crying shame more people apparently cannot be exposed to films such as this.