Sweet Sixteen

Sweet Sixteen

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

For a movie as uncompromising as this, the title has a pop tag to it, like Gillies MacKinnon's Small Faces. Neither do their subjects any favours.

After a trip to La-La Land for Bread And Roses, the team of director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty is back on home ground. The last time they were in Glasgow was for My Name Is Joe, with Peter Mullan, who won Best Actor at Cannes. This year, it's Laverty's turn. He took the Best Screenplay award.

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Loach continues to follow in the Italian Neo Realist tradition (Bicycle Thieves, Il Posto), which is beginning to look dated. Now that the legendary Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski (Dekalog, The Colours Trilogy) is dead, there are few exponents of the genre left, outside of Iran and China.

He goes further in Sweet Sixteen and uses a predominately amateur cast. His lead actor is 17-year-old Martin Compston from the first team squad of Morton FC and Michelle Coulter - Martin's mother in the film - has worked in drug rehab for the past 10 years. Needless to say, they are utterly convincing. In fact, Compston's performance dominates.

He plays Liam, a 15-year-old scammer from a Greenock housing estate, who lives with his elder sister Chantelle (Annmarie Fulton) and her wee boy. Their mum is in jail and Liam's dream is to find enough money to buy a home for her when she comes out. The only way he can do this is by dealing drugs, which brings him into conflict with the real hard men who control distribution in the Port Glasgow district.

Laverty's script is so bare of sentiment, it hurts. Liam's story leaves a scar. For those unused to the West Coast dialect, it is not easy to follow. Liam's relationship with his grandfather is as bad as that with his mother's lover. Humour is fraught. Even Liam's best friend (William Ruane) has a screw loose. Chantelle is a rock, but her sympathy does not stretch to criminality. Liam's heart is in the right place, but his methods are dubious.

You don't care for him, like you cared for the boy in Kes.

Reviewed on: 03 Oct 2002
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Sweet Sixteen packshot
Scottish teenager becomes drug dealer to give his mum, who is in jail, a proper home.
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Read more Sweet Sixteen reviews:

Jennie Kermode *****

Director: Ken Loach

Writer: Paul Laverty

Starring: Martin Compston, William Ruane, Annmarie Fulton, Michelle Coulter, Michelle Abercromby, Gary McCormack, Tommy McKee

Year: 2002

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

Festivals:

BIFF 2014
Karlovy 2017

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