After traveling around the world a bit (including the Los Angeles-set Bread and Roses), Scottish filmmaker Ken Loach is home in Glasgow with this excellent, gritty drama.
Liam (Martin Compston) is 15 and trying to sort out life in general. His mother (Michelle Coulter) is in jail, while her low-life criminal boyfriend (Gary McCormack) swaggers free. So Liam hatches a plan with his best friend Pinball (William Ruane) to help out both Mom and his single-mom sister (Annmarie Fulton). But it involves drug money, and soon he’s caught up with the local mob.
Essentially a bleak story, the film draws us in with a lively sense of character, offhanded humor and sharply authentic actors. It’s never a slog, never depressing or hopeless, even though what happens, when you think about it, is rather terrible.
Loach and his regular screenwriter Paul Laverty (who won the screenwriting award at Cannes for this film) are experts at making marginal elements of society look like normal life (well, they are!). This film resonates with truth and feeling without ever preaching. There’s an edginess here that belies the subtle and skilled camera work, accompanied by George Fenton’s terrific music. And a sharp streak of real-life humor flows through from start to finish, undercut by the difficult choices Liam is forced to make before his 16th birthday. The only problem with the film is the thickly accented dialect, which requires subtitles even for an English-speaking audience (I’d say I understood about half of the dialogue). But even if you can’t tell exactly what they’re saying, you will know–and feel–what they mean.