Ken Loach's 2002 masterpiece Sweet Sixteen is yet another example of what this doyen of (British) filmmaking does best - namely take a real social issue, choose real people (often, as with Sweet Sixteen, with minimal acting experience) and create a compelling story mixing comedy and tragedy to devastating effect. Whether it be drug addiction, living in poverty, debt collection, the housing system, sharp employment practice or the state of the education system, Loach has addressed a whole gamut of important social mores in classic films such as Kes, Raining Stones, My Name Is Joe, Cathy Come Home and Riff-Raff.
In Sweet Sixteen, Loach cast debut actor Martin Compston in the central role of Liam, a fifteen-(going on sixteen)-year-old boy, living in Greenock (a town on the Clyde west of Glasgow), and struggling to come to terms with a range of critical issues, including his mother's imminent release from prison (on drugs charges), the temptation to indulge in drug dealing himself in order to provide for her on her release, and the need to deal with the pervading negative influence (on his mother) of her erstwhile boyfriend, drug dealer Stan.
In typical fashion, Loach is unflinching in his depiction of this 'underclass', their struggles against the system and the unpleasant (but, perhaps, unavoidable) choices with which they are faced. Yet, also typically, Loach infuses this tragic tale with frequent bursts of hilarious humour. There are extremely funny sequences as Liam attempts to set up a pizza (and drugs) moped delivery service and also when Liam steals Stan's drug stash, but still finds time during his 'raid' to pocket his (repulsive) grandfather's false teeth from his bedside glass. The stark reality of the level of ambition of Liam, his family and friends is brought home as Liam and his friend Pinball (William Ruane) view their 'dream home' - a mobile home overlooking the Clyde - and Pinball wistfully notes that, as well as having this luxury pad, he also yearns for 'a year's supply of pizzas'. The film was also notable for the fact that, when it was first shown in the US (and for the TV screened version) it was shown with sub-titles, since the distributors thought that the audience might have trouble with the broad Scottish brogue on display. Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty also objected to the British Board of Film Classification giving the film an 18 certificate, their decision being based on the amount of swearing in the film.
Loach has again coerced very impressive performances from this team of first time (or near first time) acting talent. Compston is a revelation as Liam, and has gone on to put in solid performances in later films Red Road and The Disappearance of Alice Creed, but one wonders whether he will ever have a role as good as this again. There are similarly strong performances from William Ruane as Pinball, Michelle Coulter as Liam's mum Jean and from Gary McCormack as Stan.
Over the years Loach has struggled to raise the finance for many of his films (like other great British filmmakers such as Mike Leigh), and it is noticeable that Sweet Sixteen was a British, German and Spanish co-production. Another sad reflection I feel of the fact that other Europeans wish to preserve European culture rather more than do the British.
Absolutely essential viewing.
on 3 May 2003
This movie is extremely realistic. Being brought up in Glasgow myself let me assure you that what you see and hear is very authentic. I almost felt as if I had been transported back twenty years to my teenage days.At times it felt like I was looking at real family and group of friends going about their ordinary lifes.
A fantastic movie, where everyone involved in the project excels. Some of the interaction between the characters is extremely funny and then at times very moving.
Give it a chance, watch it you will not be disappointed.
on 23 December 2012
If the review were to based solely on the quality of the movie this production would undoubtedly receive five stars, however the quality of the transfer to DVD has severely let this product down. Even when played on a Blu-ray player which upscales standard definition movies this DVD has the quality of a car boot copy VHS tape. A real shame considering the superb acting and directing of this little known Scottish film. Surely it's about time this movie was re-mastered.
If you've seen and enjoyed other Scottish movies such as "My name is Joe", "The debt collector" and "On a clear day" you will undoubtedly enjoy this production, buy it with low expectations of picture quality and you won't be disappointed.
on 7 April 2003
The plot of 'Sweet Sixteen' is pure Loach; a no-holds-barred account of the hardships faced by protagonist Liam as he tries to get by in Greenock, Scotland while his Mum is in jail and her boyfriend shows nothing but disdain for him. As usual, Loach portrays the situation with his trademark candour and succeeds in uniting the audience behind Liam despite the ever deepening web of crime he himself gets trapped in as a result his desire to build a better life for his Mum when she comes out of jail.
This is a stark account of a dog-eat-dog world of betrayal in which innocence is the first victim. The message of the film is plain for all to see and no attempt is made to temper the incredible power that it contains. Unlike many of his films there is none of the pitch-black humour that Loach uses to break the tension. This is in no way a film for the faint hearted and anyone expecting a sugar-sweet ending should stay well away. Those who do buy the film will be gripped and taken with Loach and Liam on a white knuckle emotional roller-coaster ride all the way to the wonderfully intricate finale.
on 17 May 2003
I live near glasgow and this film is near enough to the truth about how a few of my past friends in school used to be, drugs, stabbings, punting drugs. all these are included in a young boy living in the poor suburbs of glasgow everyday life it is always going on just we don't know about it.
I'd love a sequel to come out of this if not its an amazing movie well done.
on 10 April 2003
I just want to start this review by saying I lived in Greenock for 24 years and no one there would think it was "a suburb of Glasgow" as the Amazon reviewer says - it is in fact a town in its own right 26 miles west of Glasgow on the Firth of Clyde. Just wanted to clear that up. OK just wanted to say I enjoyed (if that's the right word) this film - it's very funny in places - witness the bit with the pitbulls or the bit with the policeman at the beginning, or just about any confrontation between Liam and his Grandad (by the way they ain't exactly close, so don't expect any sentimentality) - and has excellent performances from Martin Compston, and the actresses who play his mum and sister. His pal Pinball also puts in a good performance - especially towards the end of the film when his relationship with Liam breaks apart. Liam crosses a line when he gets involved with the big fish that run the West of Scotland's drugs trade - and at the end of the film when his illusions are shattered, he has been given something by them which allows him to respond in an extreme (but all too common) way. I hope I see all the actors I mentioned in other things, and I hope to see more of Greenock in films and TV. (It's happened before - witness that Harvey Keitel film from a while back) And I also hope the film's writer Paul Laverty writes more stuff - his script was funny, moving and never dull. How many Hollywood films can you say that about?
on 8 May 2010
This is an amazing film. Initially its hard to follow the plot as the glaswegian accents are so strong, however as the story unfolds you can't help but get wrapped up in the emotions of the characters. Martin Compston who plays the lead character is absolutely brilliant. Even though he's selling drugs which most people would find immoral and distasteful you can understand why. All the main characters are emotionally troubled and have their own way of dealing with it. The character 'chantelle' being the 'angel' and 'liam' being the strong but sensitive boy. The argument between liam and his sister chantelle really moved me to tears as did the scene where 'pinball' cuts his own face. Wow this is a powerful movie! Didn't even realise it was a ken loache movie until afterwards but now i see why he is so highly revered. Hats of to all the cast and director.. a sheer masterpiece.
on 22 March 2004
As morbid as it sounds, it's nice to see a film which shows the true side of Scotland and not the 'shortbread' side. Forget the mountains and castles. That's for tourists in the summer. this film shows what Scotland is like the rest of the year.
What is moving about this film is that Liam has a good heart, but he doesn't know anything other than crime. He has no marals. Despite the hopes of the viewer that he'll get on the right path, we know he is on the slippery slope down.
This film is in pure Scots dialect. Unlike Braveheart and Trainspotting, it's not toned down at all so those outside Scotland will probably benefit from the English subtitles. For those in Scotland, our humour is clear in the film through Liam's banter with pal pinball.
I grew up in the council estates of scotland as this film is as hard hitting and true to life as I have seen. I find it striking because I knew people who went the way Liam did. The thing about Liam is that the only thing he has is his close family ties and his desperation to protect his mum, sister and nephew. He is drug dealer, but we still feel sorry for him becuase of his generally good soul.
This isn't a film of redemption, and it's not pretty. It's more a political statement and a means of showing that good can manifest itself in badness. Unfortunately for Liam, his 'badness' would become his destroyer.