Sweet Sixteen (2002)

Good solid Loach film

Sweet Sixteen is set in Scotland, and the accents are strong enough that the film is subtitled. The story concerns a 15-year-old boy named Liam whose mother is serving jail time for illegal substances. Liam lives with his violent stepfather (who sells those illegal substances) and his unpleasant grandfather. The home situation is tenuous at best, but when Liam disobeys his stepfather’s attempt to smuggle drugs to his mother during a prison visit, he is beaten and tossed out on the streets.

Liam moves in with his sister, Chantelle–a single mother–who lays down some rules in an attempt to protect her child. Liam and best friend, Pinball, dream of buying a caravan for 6,000 pounds, and the plan becomes to get this caravan in time for Liam’s mother’s release from jail.

Sweet Sixteen–although a tale of hopelessness, was not overwhelmingly depressing, and this is thanks to the likeablity of Liam’s character. Liam has no future, and no means of getting a quick 6,000 pounds, so he turns to Heroin sales as a way to meet his humble goal. There is something fundamentally good in Liam’s soul, but unfortunately he is corrupted thanks to his environment. He doesn’t stop and question the morality of selling Heroin–after all, it’s a family tradition. During some scenes, I was touched by Liam’s childlike qualities, and yet at other times, I was horrified by his behaviour (when he goes joyriding with his infant nephew for example). These sorts of scenes underscore the moral vacuity of Liam’s upbringing. What chance does Liam have? What chance did he ever have?

Director Ken Loach tends to concentrate on the working classes, and this film is not an exception to this. The picture Loach paints is bleak indeed, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much Liam could have achieved in life if given better circumstances. Martin Comstock plays Liam, and this is his first acting role. He really does an incredible job and is a natural. The film is gritty, dark, and full of hopeless characters who cannot escape from their environment, and yet some optimism remains. Sweet Sixteen was not a pretty film, and it certainly is a sad commentary on our times that a kid as resourceful, clever, and funny as Liam remains trapped in a world without opportunities–other than criminal.

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Filed under Ken Loach, Political/social films

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