Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Sweet Sixteen

Reviewed by: Mehran Mehrabanpour
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Drama
Length:
1 hr. 45 min.
Year of Release:
2002
Scene from “Sweet Sixteen”
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Starring: Martin Compston, William Ruane, Annmarie Fulton, Michelle Abercromby, Michelle Coulter, Gary McCormack, Tommy McKee | Directed by: Ken Loach | Written by: Paul Laverty

Director Ken Loach is a man with a brave, resolute inclination for the underprivileged and exploited by society. Anyone who remembers films like “My Name is Joe”, “Bread and Roses” and “Kes” will know that Loach is deeply concerned about the failing of politics and its widespread impact on the population. His latest film, “Sweet Sixteen”, holds dearly to his vision of social enlightenment.

Set in an unemployment ridden estate in Glasgow, we follow teenage delinquent Liam and his attempt to escape the route paved out for him by his family and immediate social environment. With his mother in prison, Liam is determined to make a better life for the both of them on her imminent release, days prior to his sixteenth birthday. He has his eyes on buying a caravan overlooking the Clyde, where the two of them can live in peace.

He needs cash fast, and there is no faster way for Liam than to steal his mothers’ boyfriends’ heroine, and start selling it, co-aided by his best friend Pinball (William Ruane). This move attracts the attention of the local druglord who so relishes Liam’s tenacity and wit that he makes him part of the gang. Liam excels at first, and is given his own little patch to deal in. Inevitably though, things start to go sour, and events get complicated and ultimately violent. The unforseen conclusion to the film reminds us that Liam was always a boy who was put into situations that grown men would find hard to deal with.

I hope nothing of what I have said will put you off this important film. Though the setting is bleak, there is a good sense of mischief, and Paul Laverty’s script makes sure that we are not derived of humour, whilst never losing sight of the social and economic factors that will unfortunately drive Liam to his destruction.

As usual, Loach uses non-professional actors and, as usual, they all give excellent performances. The camera never makes you aware of itself, and the cinematography is such that there is a distinctive documentary feel to it. Keislowski, the much praised Polish director, said that he was always interested in the border between fiction and documentary. In his dramas, he always wanted to give the feel of documentary to further concrete his convictions and highlight the universality of the themes he was trying to put across. This is precisely what Loach has done, and to devastating effect.

I see Liam as the person that I would hardly meet, never choose to socialise with and definitely judge on first impression as a threat (all to my loss). I wouldn’t know how to relate to him, I haven’t been through what he has been through, and I don’t have the same pressing issues as him. It’s precisely this that makes Liam Liam, and its through no doing of his own. So, Loach is giving me a chance to redeem myself, if not only momentarily, helping me understand why Liam is the way he is. In looking at the mirror that Loach provides, I am sad that I never attempted to overcome my ignorance.

Viewer Comments
Positive—Please note: My rating of “somewhat offensive” may surprise some, but is due to the extremely moral intent behind the film, and the fact that it is a very accurate portrayal of life in Greenock and the area around Glasgow. The people who this film is designed to speak to will, most likely, find little to offend them in the film. Indeed, in the UK local counselors have over-ridden the BBFC 18 rating in the Greenock area as they feel this is a helpful film for younger teenagers (15 upwards) to see.

One of my good friends is a youth worker in the Greenock area where Sweet Sixteen is set. In fact, a number of the young people she works with appear in the film in minor roles. Liam’s situation is typical of so many people she sees. They fall into crime, as they don’t see there is a choice. This film shows that even using crime for “good” reasons is not the right course of action, and that there’s a way out if you put yourself to it, as Liam’s sister does.

Nothing in the film is exaggerated or gratuitous, even though there is much bad language. If you are mature enough, this is a superb film.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Dagon, age 29