Small Faces (1996)

“We really don’t see much of the law down here.”

The Scottish coming-of-age film Small Faces is the story of the three teenage Maclean brothers growing up in the slums of Glasgow in the late 60s. Quiet, gentle Alan attends Art College. Wayward brother Bobby is a member of the Glen Gang and right hand man to the gang leader–Charlie Sloan. The film’s protagonist is the youngest brother, 13-year-old Lex. While Alan is the ‘good’ brother, and Bobby is the ‘bad’ brother, Lex has yet to define himself. Lex shares Alan’s artistic talent, but he also suffers from being the youngest brother of the three and longs to be viewed as a man. There is a certain amount of subtle pressure from the Glen Gang for Lex to join their ranks–a certain cloak of safety apparently comes from the idea that you have powerful–or in this case–violent friends. Bobby has declared himself by joining the Glen, and Alan steers clear of gang involvement while trying to protect and shield Lex at the same time.

When Lex commits a foolish, thoughtless act, the Glens and their serious territorial rival–the Tongs–both begin paying attention to the Maclean Brothers. Interest is heightened when it becomes common knowledge that Alan has a relationship with Joanne–a 17-year-old girl who manages to be friends with both Charlie Sloan and Malky Johnson (the leader of the Tongs).

Most of the film deals with the idea that a child–Lex–is forced to make serious, irreversible decisions–which will impact the rest of his life. Some of the best, and most touching scenes in the film occur when Lex is placed in typical childhood situations. For example, in one scene, Lex, who is hiding out in a local cinema–terrified that he will be murdered–wakes up to find himself in the middle of a children’s matinee. He is surrounded by happy, joyful children, and Lex responds and echoes their behaviour with ecstatic relief. It is poignant scenes like this that remind us that Lex is still–at heart–a child who has been robbed of his childhood innocence by poverty and violence. One of the most interesting relationships in the films occurs between Lex and Gorbals–a fellow 13-year-old who is affiliated (rather against his will) to the Tongs. Neither Lex nor Gorbals want to get involved with the gangs, but they are forced into contact by their situations. When they meet, the boys stare at each other for a few moments as they recognize that they are both hostages to proximity. From director Gillies MacKinnon

If you enjoy Small Faces, I also recommend Fresh (director Boaz Yakin).

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