The Debt Collector, a forgotten gem of Scottish noir cinema.
1970s: Nicky Dryden (Billy Connolly) is arrested by Gary Keltie (Ken Stott) for a suspected murder, committed while acting as a debt collector on behalf of a loan shark.
Late 1990s: Dryden is free, married to journalist Val (Francesca Annis) and has become a renowned sculptor. But Keltie isn’t convinced that he’s really paid his debt to society, and doubts he’s really reformed.
Keltie decides that, if justice won’t make Dryden pay, he’ll do it. So he starts disrupting every moment of the sculptor’s life by trying to put him face to face with his past crimes. Dryden’s patience towards the policeman soon wears thin.
Young Flipper (Iain Robertson) is a wannabe gangster who grew up admiring Dryden’s actions, and does everything he can to impress his idol, who refuses to support the youngster’s attempt to join the Edinburgh criminal world.
The question arises: can a man really leave his past behind? Dryden seems willing to do so but, in different ways, both Keltie and Flipper don’t allow him to do so.
Playwright Anthony Neilson, here directing his first and only feature film, displays a vivid vision of the contrasts of modern day life in Edinburgh (and anywhere else), where the most tourist-friendly displays of opulence such as the yearly military Tattoo go side by side with the lowest crimes and the most desperate people. His condemnation of violence is total, as every act of violence in this movie has the most terrible consequences.
The casting of the main characters was inspired. Billy Connolly, mostly known as a stand-up comedian (although he had already starred in the BAFTA-nominated Mrs. Brown), brings to his role an unprecedented intensity, probably at least partially due to his personal experiences before finding fame. Ken Stott is instead type-cast as a rough-and-ready policeman, as he appeared in a similar role in Danny Boyle’s directorial debut Shallow Grave and in the historic comedy Plunkett & Macleane and will end up playing Inspector Rebus in the TV series dedicated to Ian Rankin’s creation, DCI Metcalfe in Messiah and DI Chappelle in The Vice.
A gripping tale of violence, justice and revenge, The Debt Collector has received less accolades than it deserves: it is a movie that should be watched and remembered.