Sweet Sixteen (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner10/08/2002

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 106 mins

Powerful, bleak, brilliantly acted, depressing and yet full of humour – this is Ken Loach doing what he does best.

Let’s face facts. Ken Loach doesn’t do “comedy”. Or rather, he does, but only in short bursts and he prefers to surround it with pain and heartache. (Think Brian Glover on the football pitch in Kes. And then think of the bit where the brother kills the kestrel. See?).

So it should come as no surprise then, that his latest film, Sweet Sixteen, is cut from the same cloth. It’s powerful, it’s brilliantly acted, it’s very funny in places, but it’s also full of pain and heartache. However, it also happens to be Loach’s best film for Quite Some Time.

Talent Spotting

Incidentally, the ‘18’ certificate is for one or two very nasty beatings, but mostly for the language – for the record, Loach has publicly said that if you’re between 15 and 18 you should try and sneak in to see it anyway. It’s good advice.

Loach is well known for getting terrific performances from people who have never acted before and his talent-spotting abilities haven’t deserted him. Here, Martin Compston (plucked from a local school) plays Liam, a 16 year old boy from the estates of Greenock in Glasgow, who we first meet playing an amusing practical joke on a policeman.

His mother is in prison, so he lives with her brutal boyfriend. However, he soon gets violently beaten and then kicked out of the house after he louses up a scheme to distribute drugs in prison via his mother.

It All Goes Horribly Wrong

Liam realises that his best shot at getting his mother away from her boyfriend (and by extension, off drugs) lies in finding her a better place to live. So he and his best friend Pinball (William Ruane, the Spud to Liam’s Renton) begin to rub shoulders with the local drug barons in the hopes of picking up some “errand” work. However, Pinball proves to be something of a liability. Does it all go horribly wrong? Well, what do you think?

The performances are superb, particularly from Compston, who makes Liam a fully believable character – tough enough to survive in the real world, but also painfully vulnerable. The scenes with his mother towards the end are truly heart breaking.

There’s also excellent support from Ruane, as well as Annmarie Fulton as Liam’s sister. As ever, Loach really makes you care what happens to these characters, even though you know it won’t end happily.

Unintelligible Accents

If there’s a problem with the film it’s that, on occasion, the thick Glaswegian dialect is difficult to follow. To this end, the distributors have come up with the novel idea of releasing the film with the first ten minutes subtitled.

It’s meant to ‘ease you in’ to the language, but in fact, what happens is that just as you start to rely on the subtitles, they’re cruelly whipped away from you and you’re forced to start over. As such, it’s worth making the effort from the beginning.

In short, this is well worth seeing. With a great screenplay by Paul Laverty (who deservedly won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes), this is Loach at his best and the film is a hard-hitting, extremely moving drama with an impressive central performance from its young star-in-the-making. Highly recommended.

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Sweet Sixteen (18)
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Content updated: 17/10/2017 12:10

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