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Movie Review: 'Sweet Sixteen' develops into bleak, powerful film

Saturday, July 19, 2003

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

Liam is just coming upon his 16th birthday. His mother is just coming out of prison. His pals are coming after him to graduate from petty to grander crime, and we are coming into their low-life world.


"Sweet Sixteen"

Rating: R for adult themes and extremely profane language
Starring: Martin Compston, William Ruane, Annmarie Fulton, Michelle Abercromby
Director: Ken Loach


Director Ken Loach's gritty venue is Scotland, where neither the adolescents nor the language much resembles our own. They might as well be speaking Tibetan: So impenetrable is the Scottish dialect that it must be translated for us in subtitles.

Liam (Martin Compston) is both older and younger than his scant years. Lacking anything like a stable home or family, he has been on his own, getting in trouble and surviving any way he can. Now, his delinquency is dangerously escalating along with his naive obsession to find a "nice" place for his returning Mum to live.

Misplaced love and doomed courage are Loach's recurring themes in such working-class pictures as "Hidden Agenda" (1990) and "My Name Is Joe" (1998), celebrated for their neo-realistic style and naturalistic performances. "Sweet Sixteen" is a prime example of both, and as such riveting.

"Do you know what 'initiative' is?" someone asks. "Laughing at the boss' jokes."

Liam's boss will be a set of druglord-thugs whose orders are, "Sell more than anybody without getting caught."

He largely does so, aided and goaded by best mate Pinball (William Ruane), an even wilder and crazier version of rebel. Yet in the midst of violence, he can respond to the crisis of his sister with, "I'll give you a cuddle."

Murderous on the outside, familial and loving inside, this is one conflicted dude, and Loach is one original director. His film is a long day's journey into wee Glasgow night -- powerful if relentlessly, cynically bleak.

Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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