This is not for the faint-hearted. If you expect Billy Connolly to come on screen, crack a few gags about pubic hair and shuffle off, then you're in for a nasty surprise. The Debt Collector is a warts-and-all, life-in-the-gutter drama, set in Glasgow. None of the characters are particularly likeable and there are several moments of horribly graphic violence.
Connolly turns in an impressive performance as the reformed Dryden, whose struggle to escape his past is doomed from the moment he first confronts cop Keltie. As Dryden's bitter nemesis, the 'tec is relentless, failing to see how his actions are causing greater pain to his colleagues on the force and to his devoted mother (Crosbie). The escalating battle between the two adversaries gradually draws in all those around them, including the moralistic Val, who's tried to remain untouched by Dryden's former career.
The spiralling trail of violence is heavy-handed at times, giving the quieter moments greater realism and impact. The most telling scene is when Dryden is approached by Flipper (Iain Robertson), a would-be young gangster who idolises Dryden's former persona. The disturbed teen is pain-fully shy in front of his hero, whereas Dryden is completely dismissive of the youngster and his former life, failing to take responsibility for the cult of violence he's created. More is said about the two characters through this episode than in any of their more bloody confrontations.
Ken Loach tackled similar themes last year in My Name Is Joe with much greater subtlety, and The Debt Collector suffers in comparison to that superior film. While the acting is universally strong, there's a telling lack of sympathetic characters and the bleak view of redemption hardly makes for comfortable viewing.
Strong performances can't entirely redeem a heavy-handed and violent film. Connolly taps into his darker side, so those expecting an evening of jokes should steer clear. Still, moments suggest this director could be worth watching.