Liam (Martin Compston) is your average 15 year-old Scottish teenager, enjoying
his friends and free-spirited life. But Liam has many problems, including his single-mother sister, small time crime, an incarcerated
mother, her abusive boyfriend, and a dream to alleviate it all with the purchase
of a caravan located far away from his headaches. But as Liam takes on the debt
of the caravan payments, his descent into the criminal and drug underworld to
make quick cash threatens to take away his friends and family.
The desperation of the lower class and the vitality of life through dark
times are the normal stomping grounds for director Ken Loach ("My Name Is Joe,"
"Bread And Roses," "Raining Stones"). His latest, "Sweet Sixteen," (IMDb listing) is an attempt
to convey the horrors of disillusionment through the eyes of the youth. But with
this film comes a strange revelation: Loach, a passionate and boisterous critic
of the artifice found in American cinema, has made his most conventional film
yet. "Sixteen" has the universal visuals of abusive boyfriends, powerful drug
lords, and loose cannon best friends that litter the American cinematic
landscape. The only element that separates Loach's film from the
pack is his dedication to realism and genuine pathos. "Sixteen" is a harrowing
journey, taking the viewer down dark paths of horrific decisions and reckless
youth. It is often a fascinating journey into the mind of the desperate teen,
with Loach only losing steam when he must find unsophisticated ways to connect
Liam's story together.
One of the film's greatest strengths is Loach's reminders at
critical intervals that Liam is still a child. As we see Liam's
journey, learning how to sell heroin, dealing with gangsters, gathering his
bearings before a murder attempt, and seeing the dissolution of his family and
his best friend before his eyes, Loach remindes us that Liam is only 15
years-old. It is Loach's statement on the lost generation of
today's crime-ready youths that catches the eye when the film flounders.
The lead performance from Martin Compston is the stand out element of "Sixteen."
A burning mess of passions, Compston's performance as Liam finds individual
emotional shades between the blurred spectrum of the average teen angst cache.
Compston and Loach manage to find all sorts of feelings within Liam without ever
alienating the audience or keeping them at bay. Even if we can't relate to
Liam, Loach has made sure we understand every last move the boy makes.
"Sweet Sixteen" may be Loach's most conventional film in recent memory, but that
hardly dilutes the power of the events onscreen. This is typically authoritative
work from the director along with a heartfelt warning to the world about the
state of today's teens.
Filmfodder Grade: B+