Sweet Sixteen: The Good Son

The best intentions gang aft agley in a heart-wrenching Scottish drama. (Don't worry: It's got subtitles.)

THE STRUGGLE OF 15-year-old Liam and his 17-year-old, single-parent sister, Chantelle, to create the family they never had is at the heart of Ken Loach's superb new film Sweet Sixteen (which opens Friday, June 13 at the Metro). Debuting actor Martin Compston has just the qualities Loach said he needed for Liam: "A working-class lad who makes you smile when you meet him because of his cheek"as well as resilience and an emotional accessibility rare at his age. We meet Liam entrepreneurially selling glimpses of the stars to kids, via his telescope, in a scene both realistic and symbolic. His single-minded purpose is to see that his mother, Jean, gets far away from temptation when she's released from prison. This means outwitting her drug-dealer boyfriend, Stan, and her own ruthless father, who together scheme to have her push heroin while still in jail. When Liam balks at his assigned part in their scheme, the vicious beating he gets from Stan drives him to take refuge with Chantelle and her "wee lad" son, the center of her life. After having been let down by their mother again and again, Chantelle wants nothing more to do with Jean, while Liam maintains his bright hopes for her. He sets his heart on a cozy trailer for sale up above town, complete with picket fence, plastic flowers, and an idyllic view of the river Clyde. Loach contrasts the beautiful landscape around the town of Greenock on the Clydejust up from Glasgowwith the meanness of his characters' lives and their pitifully narrow choices. How narrow are they? To save his beloved mum, Liam steals Stan's stash, calls the cops on him, and starts dealing smack. Some salvation. Local hoods notice his pluck and canniness, but rather than beating him senseless, they have him take over their courier duties. Soon, under Liam's guidance, all the teen workers at a pizza shop are making double deliveries on their buzzing motor scooters. Loach has always been masterful at capturing working-class humor (as well as its bleakness), but Sixteen is almost a throwback to his great early Kes (1969) for the involvement we feel with Liam. His essential sweetness, his hope for something beyond the limitations of his life, catch us up, too, giving Sixteen more suspense than any thrillerand with far more at stake. Never less than truthful, Loach makes Liam's fate a believable outgrowth of character, not a twist of melodrama. The final sequence has the inevitability of Greek tragedy worked out in everyday life. info@seattleweekly.com

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