Sweet Sixteen is anything but sweet, though it is savory. About a Scottish teenager on the verge of his sixteenth birthday, Sweet Sixteen tells the story of Liam, who will go to just about any length to provide for his mother. It is a story of naive love.
Martin Compston stars as Liam, a young lad whose mother is getting out of prison in a few months, the day before his birthday. In preparation for the big event, he wants to have a nice home for her to live in, a place where she can get away from the drugs, crime and seedy boyfriends - namely one named Stan - that got her put away in the first place. Of course, to do so, he will have to do more than just sell stolen cigarettes, so he himself starts drug dealing and so forth. The money starts coming in, but what starts at drugs leads to worse things, and it is only a matter of time before everything comes crumbling down.
Compston is excellent as Liam. He is believable, powerful and likeable, despite several personality flaws. He is the flawed character that every actor wants to play, one that the audience can feel compassion for even though he shouldn't; he loves his mother, but he's willing to sell drugs (and possibly do worse) to prove his love. Furthermore, is all of it really worth it? Is his mom worth loving? Worth saving? Is she in a position to be saved?
All of this is set against a backdrop of a slummy Scottish town, a place so bleak that director Ken Loach could have just as easily had everyone perform in front of gray screens. Though much worse has been seen in movies, the place leaves little to be desired for and reflects the statement that Loach is trying to make; what do kids that grow up in a place like this have to live for?
Intriguingly enough, Sweet Sixteen is a movie in definite need of subtitles, even though everyone is speaking English. The dialect of English spoken in this movie is so skewed that it could easily be its own language; only a few words here and there are identifiable (well, to me, at least). Part of the entertainment is listening to one of the characters say a single syllable and then reading a whole sentence on the screen. Unless you're from the region, definitely turn on subtitles.
Sweet Sixteen is a good movie, but some critics have been placing this movie in their Top Ten Lists. It has been getting some real acclaim. Does it deserve it? I think not. It's good, but not that good. When all is said and done, I did not feel moved by this movie; I respected it, but was not overpowered by it.
Sweet Sixteen is an interesting movie that shows a different side of Scotland, and those who like crime dramas should be interested by this. Nevertheless, it isn't a tremendously absorbing movie, either.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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