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Liam is a young, restless teen struggling to realize his dream in the gritty and dismal streets of Greenock, where unemployment is rampant and little hope is available to the city's youth. He is waiting for the release of his mother, Jean, from prison where she is completing a prison term for a crime that her boyfriend actually committed. Her boyfriend, Stan, is a crude and obnoxious drug pusher is partnered by Liam's equally rough and foul-mouthed, mean-spirited grandfather. Liam is determined to rescue his mother from both of them, which means creating a safe haven beyond their reach. But first he's got to raise the cash--no small feat for a young man It's not long before Liam and his pals' crazy schemes lead them into all sorts of trouble. Finding himself dangerously out of his depth, Liam knows he should walk away. Only this time, he just can't let go. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Engaging and impressive despite being depressing and bleak
Liam is a teenager surrounded by crime and poverty all around him. His step-father and grandfather having him smuggling drugs in to his mother's prison for her to sell on, while his activities with friend pinball can only politely be described as "anti-social". With his mother due to be released in only a few months, Liam is determined to get her a new start along with him, his sister and her young son. However his opportunities for getting money to set them up is limited and he steals drugs from his step-father's stash and tries to deal them off as quick as possible to make the money he needs.
At times watching a Ken Loach film is a bit like being having your face pushing down into something unpleasant for two hours; occasionally you get to come up and take a breath of fresh air but you are quickly pushed right back down again soon enough. So it is with Sweet Sixteen, which sets us down in a Scottish world of poverty and crime where "opportunity" is having a good supply and a good spot to sell, while being seen as having "potential" means that you can sell without using the stash yourself. Typically for those trapped within this sort of world, the goal is to get out of the situation but using the situation to do it but, unlike Jay Z, the story rarely sees the protagonists living to rich old lives married to the sexiest pop diva around.
In Liam's story his hope is not to become rich but just to get out of the area and hopefully get a normal life with his mother. The entrapping nature of his world is seen in the need to get in deeper in order to get out and so it goes. The gritty, depressing locations and the frequent, strong language are only cosmetic things that suggest the problem because really the grittiness is all in the characters and their situations. Laverty's script brings these out well without ever making it come over a preaching or hand-wringing, instead he just presents it for what it is, which is far from cheerful. It is depressing watching but yet quite compelling and convincing as it paints a world where "bettering oneself" is nothing more than liberal wishful thinking. Although tit isn't fair to criticise this story for being unrelentingly bleak, it is hard to watch it and, once seen, I cannot imagine why anyone would wish to rewatch it again even within the medium term.
The cast work well with the script though. Compston is convincingly ratty and very much the type of kid that most of us would avoid eye-contact with; however he manages to find the person in there early on, so that he can then do a good job of losing that same person as it goes on. Ruane has a simpler role but works OK it in, likewise Fulton, Abercromby and others all turn in natural performances. Credit to Loach again because he has drawn out convincing performances despite working with a mostly young cast.
There is no getting away from the fact that this is a depressing and bleak portrayal of life in poverty but, although not one you'll watch over and over again, it is an impressive and engaging film.
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