Reviewed by: Mehran Mehrabanpour
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.