Directed by Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty, Sweet Sixteen is a Scottish teenage boy who is trying to make his life better for himself, his adult sister, and their convicted mother by becoming a drug dealer. Starring Martin Compston, William Ruane, Annmarie Fulton, Michelle Abercrombie, Michelle Coulter, and Gary McCormack. Sweet Sixteen is a powerful coming-of-age film from Ken Loach.
Liam (Martin Compston) is a trouble-making kid who likes to sell cigarettes to people with his best friend Pinball (William Ruane). Yet, Liam hopes to see his mother (Michelle Coulter) out of jail as she is to get out before his sixteenth birthday. Still, he has to deal with her lover Stan (Gary McCormack) and his grandfather (Tommy McKee) who force him to hide drugs whenever they visit his mother. After being kicked out of his grandfather’s house, Liam stays with his older sister Chantelle (Annmarie Fulton) and her son Calum (Calum McAlees). With Chantelle’s friend Suzanne (Michelle Abercrombie) often visiting, Liam feels that he needs to do something to give his family a better life as he and Pinball figure out what to do.
Realizing where Stan hides his stash of drugs, Liam and Pinball decides to steal them and make deals of their own with Liam using the profits to buy a trailer home. With the two making waves in small deals and Liam having bought the chance to get the trailer home, he makes sure that only he and Pinball know what they’re doing. When they decide to deal in a territory near another dealer, Liam gets himself into trouble as he manages to catch the attention of a powerful drug lord named Douglas (Jon Morrison). Though Pinball doesn’t like Douglas, Liam is entranced by what he has to offer where he asks Liam to make a hit on a man named Scullion (Robert Rennie) as a test.
With Liam inching closer to his dream, some thing happens that changes everything as he becomes suspicious over what happened. While Chantelle knows why he’s doing what he’s been doing, she tries to remind him about their mother and why she has a hard time dealing with her. Notably as Liam is forced to make moves and face harsh truths about everything he’s been doing.
The film is about a boy trying to get his mother away from her brash boyfriend and the harsh life that they been living by becoming a drug dealer. While he and his best friend have good intentions as it was just a temporary thing, the boy’s moves ends up getting the attention of a local drug lord who would give him things that would be bigger than he imagined. Yet, it would cause troubles as his friend feels neglected and the boy finds himself in a very different world though he remains focused on why he’s doing it.
Screenwriter Paul Laverty creates a somber story about a boy coming of age in the span of months before his sixteenth birthday. While Liam is just a kid who likes to cause some trouble and get away from his mother’s abusive boyfriend. Yet, the only people that really cares about him are his sister Chantelle and his best friend Pinball. Chantelle just wants him to be safe while Pinball makes sure he helps him with his goal as their ambitions in the dealing business is small. Unfortunately, drug-dealing isn’t some small-time thing as things eventually become complicated and friendships fall by the wayside. Still, Laverty focuses on Liam who is the central figure of the film as he is a good kid who makes bad choices though it’s its intentions are honorable. It is a truly engaging and heart wrenching story that is funny but also touching in what this boy is trying to do.
Ken Loach’s direction is truly potent in the way he plays a lot in the film naturally by opening the film innocently where little kids pay to see Saturn through a telescope. With this scene, it allows the audience to see that despite the film’s profane language and raw subject matter. It is a film about innocence where Loach keeps the camera in tact as it is presented in a full-frame format. There’s an intimacy to what Loach is doing throughout the film while following this boy and seeing the world from that boy’s eyes. A lot of it is presented in a loose, hand-held style with amazing compositions of Glasgow, Scotland to show the world he’s living in. Overall, Loach creates a superbly rich and poignant drama that is really mesmerizing.
Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd does an excellent job with the film‘s lush yet naturalistic photography to capture the cold, damp look of Glasgow along with a few sunny moments for many of its daytime exterior and interior scenes. Ackroyd also creates some fantastic work for the nighttime scenes to help set the dark mood that is to happen during the second half of the film. Editor Jonathan Morris does a brilliant job with the editing as he maintains a straightforward approach to the cutting while keeping the pacing of the film leisured and simple.
Production designer Martin Johnson and art director Fergus Clegg do some good work with the set pieces created such as the trailer home and the places that Liam encounters throughout the film. Costume designer Carole K. Millar also does a good job with the costumes by maintaining a realistic look to what young kids wear to the suit that Douglas wears that makes him intimidating. Sound editor Kevin Brazier does a stellar job with the sound to capture the raucous world of Glasgow from its city to the quietness of the suburb.
The film’s music by George Fenton is wonderfully plaintive with its low-key, guitar-driven pieces and ambient-style tracks. The film’s soundtrack features an array of music including Manic Street Preachers, Robbie Williams, Sub Sub, and the Pretenders where the song I’ll Stand By You provides one of the most touching moments in the film.
The casting for the film is truly phenomenal as it includes some notable small performances from Tommy McKee as Liam’s foul-mouthed grandfather, Martin McCardie as Douglas’ right-hand man Tony, Robert Rennie as a dealer named Scullion, Calum McAlees as Liam’s nephew Calum, and as Liam’s pizza-delivery friends, Junior Walker and Gary Maitland. Jon Morrison is really good as the intimidating but calm drug dealer Douglas while Gary McCormack is great as the very aggressive Stan. Michelle Coulter is excellent as Liam’s weary mother who is amazed by what her son is doing as Coulter maintains a restrained performance of a woman that is being very quiet. Michelle Abercrombie is superb as Chantelle’s friend Suzanne who helps out with the family while being someone Liam and Pinball to really fall for.
William Ruane is amazing as Liam’s friend Pinball who helps him out with his dealings while trying to keep him in control though he is also a reckless kid who later feels neglected as he acts out his frustrations in style. Annmarie Fulton is brilliant as Liam’s older sister Chantelle who wonders what Liam is doing while being the one person who cares about him as she tries to tell him about their mother. Finally, there’s Martin Compston in a magnificent role as Liam which is debut performance. Compston brings a fiery energy to his character as he often fights his way through while proving to be a tender young lad as it is truly one of the best discoveries in film.
Sweet Sixteen is an outstanding film from Ken Loach that features a glorious performance from Martin Compost and a fantastic script from Paul Laverty. It is a film that is truly among one of Loach’s finest films of his celebrated career while it is also a great coming-of-age film that is up there with the greats. In the end, Sweet Sixteen is raw yet endearing film from Ken Loach and company.
Ken Loach Films: (Cathy Come Home) - (Poor Cow) - Kes - (The Save the Children Fund Film) - (Family Life) - (The Price of Coal) - (Black Jack) - (The Gamekeeper) - (Looks and Smiles) - (Which Side Are You On?) - (Fatherland) - (Hidden Agenda) - (Riff-Raff) - (Raining Stones) - (Ladybird Ladybird) - (Land and Freedom) - (A Contemporary Case of Common Ownership) - (Carla’s Song) - (The Flickering Flame) - (McLibel (1)) - (My Name is Joe) - (Bread & Roses) - (The Navigator) - (Ae Fond Kiss…) - (Tickets) - (McLibel (2)) - The Wind That Shakes the Barley - It’s a Free World… - Looking for Eric - (Route Irish) - (The Angel's Snare) - (The Spirit of '45) - Jimmy's Hall - I, Daniel Blake
© thevoid99 2011
Man do I ever love this film. It is one of my favourite Ken Loach films. I remember seeing this at TIFF back in 2002 and Martin Compston received a standing ovation when he walked out on stage for the Q&A. Speaking of Compston, this post reminded me that I need to get around to seeing the Disappearance of Alice Creed. I have been procrastinating on that for a while.
With this film, I wasn't really expecting much other than a very realistic kind of film from the small number of films that I've seen from Ken Loach.
Wow, what I got instead was something far more than that. It was definitely a surprise and I've added it to my work-in-progress list of the best films of the 2000s. Martin Compost was also the surprise not because he was brash and funny but also sensitive. That scene where he records a tape for his mother and puts that Pretender song really got me. I'm still stunned by that film. I'm glad someone else think it's a great film. Thanks Courtney.
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