Film review: Sweet Sixteen

Published: Friday, July 25 2003 7:36 a.m. MDT

By no stretch of the imagination can "Sweet Sixteen" be called a feel-good movie. Yet by the standards of its director, Ken Loach, it most certainly is.

With films like "My Name is Joe," the Scottish filmmaker has proved himself to be one of bleakest storytellers working in film. So, in spite of this one being downbeat as well, this dramatic tale of a teen who deals drugs seems almost light.

However, be warned that it is realistic, vivid and features dialogue and other content that are most assuredly R-rated. (Because of the thick English accents, the film does feature subtitles to make the dialogue more comprehensible, another recent trademark of Loach's films.)

The title "Sweet Sixteen" refers to Liam (Martin Compston), a would-be "entrepreneur" from one of Scotland's slums who's on the cusp of his 16th birthday. He and his best friend, Pinball (William Ruane), are barely getting by selling black-market cigarettes. What he'd really like to do is find a way to by a home for his older sister Chantelle (Annmarie Fulton) and her child, as well as his mother (Michelle Coulter).

Meanwhile, dear old mum is serving time in prison on a drug rap, thanks to her worthless boyfriend (Gary McCormack). So Liam decides to rip off the boyfriend by swiping his drug supply and selling it for a tidy little profit.

It's a revenge tactic of sorts, but it also leads to bigger things when Liam gets a job offer from a local druglord (Jon Morrison) and sees it as a shot at making his dreams come true.

Not to give too much away, but given that this is a Loach film, you know this can't possibly end well. However, it is leavened with unexpected humor and expressed with real tenderness and affection for the characters.

There are some terrific performances. Scottish TV star Compston makes Liam quite sympathetic; despite his character's many failings, you want the best for him and his family. The strong relationship between Liam and his sister is also touching and believable, thanks to Compston and Fulton.

"Sweet Sixteen" is rated R for frequent use of strong sex-related profanity and crude sexual slang terms, violence (beatings, stabbings, violence against women and vehicular violence), drug content (distribution of heroin) and brief gore. Running time: 106 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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