The violent past of onetime Glasgow gangster Paul Ferris yields a banal biopic in “The Wee Man,” returning multihyphenate Ray Burdis (“Love, Honor and Obey”) to the director’s chair after an absence of 13 years. This highly sympathetic and thus controversial portrait of the ruthless enforcer fillets selectively from Ferris’ own memoir, depicting a bullied child and affable teen goaded into standing up to psychotic local thugs. Stabbings, gougings and brutal slayings have proved tasty fare for bloodthirsty Scottish genre fans, delivering a surprise £239,000 ($376,000) in 10 days.
The casting of genial presence Martin Compston helps render the adult Ferris a sympathetic protag, as he rises up the ranks loyal to the local godfather (Patrick Bergin), before falling foul of the kingpin’s jealous son (a vivid Stephen McCole) and a duplicitous rival player (John Hannah). The subtext-light script aggressively steers audience sympathies through a well-signposted morality tale, but there’s little of distinction to appeal beyond Scotland’s borders. Tech credits are adequate, although London’s East End stands in for authentic Glasgow locations, reportedly necessitated by uncooperative local authorities.