SMALL FACES(director/writer: Gillies MacKinnon; screenwriter: Billy MacKinnon; cinematographer: John DeBorman; editor: Scott Thomas; cast: Lex Maclean (Iain Robertson), Joseph McFadden (Alan MacLean), J.S. Duffy (Bobby MacLean), Laura Fraser (Joanne MacGowan), Garry Sweeney (Charlie Sloan), Clare Higgins (Lorna MacLean), Kevin McKidd (Malky Johnson), Mark McConnochie (Gorbals), Ian McElhinney (Uncle Andrew), David Walker (Fabio); Runtime: 102; October Films; 1995-UK)
“A hard-hitting tale about Glasgow street life”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A hard-hitting tale about Glasgow street life in a working class neighborhood, set in 1968. The three MacLean brothers live with their widowed mother, Lorna (Higgins), in a small flat in the outlying area of the city. They all miss very much their deceased father though it is the eldest boy Bobby (Duffy) who misses him the most. He suffers from nightmares, lack of intelligence, and an uncontrollable anger. He belongs to the local gang ‘The Glen.’ Alan (Joseph MacFadden) is the 18-year-old middle brother who is studying at an art school, trying to avoid gang life and is having a flirtatious relationship with an enchanting 19-year-old, Joanne (Fraser). She is two-timing the psychopathic gang leader of the Tongs, Malky Johnson (Kevin McKidd), by hiding from him that she is going out with the eccentric gang leader of The Glen, Charlie Sloan (Garry Sweeney). The central figure in the story is the troubled baby faced 13-year-old Lex (Iain Robertson), who is caught in the middle of choosing between both his older brother’s lifestyles. He is also faced with problems in school and uncertainty of his future, but on the positive side he has shown some passion for playing the trombone, drawing, and only getting into childish trouble. He witnesses razor fights, beatings, and violent terror in the neighborhood as he struggles to find himself with no one to guide him properly, in this striking coming of age film. The film is told from his view of things.
The mischievous Lex, while out in the park with Alan, fires an air-gun and accidentally hits Malky between the eyes while he is playing soccer. By this rash action he thereby brings all the MacLean brothers into the gang feud, and that requires protection from The Glen. Charlie Sloan is a Mick Jagger fan and somewhat artistically inclined, who brings the feud on with the rival gang to a new height of violence.
There is one telling scene of the extended Maclean family together in one of their happier moments as their mother sings traditional Celtic folk songs in a beautiful lilting voice and a visiting uncle (McElhinney) from the States gets drunk and joins in the singing, and shows off the tattoo of his ex-wife on his back.
It is a deliberate film doing a grand job of setting up the characters and the tough situation they are in, with some powerful visuals to help tell the story. The graffiti buildings, the anxious faces on the main characters searching for something good in their life, and the invisible line that is always in danger of being crossed — the line between real big trouble and childhood trouble is always one step away for these working class toughs.
The brick fights between the rival gangs and the angst of the mother not understanding what to do seemed genuine, in this semi-autobiographical work by the MacKinnon brothers — Gillies and Billy.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph about the film’s ending.
The film comes to its most tense moments when the confused Lex feels put upon by the roughhouse tactics of Sloan. His gang pummels an artist friend (Walker) of Alan’s for no reason; he was someone who had been kind to him. Lex visits the housing project area of the Tongs where he accidentally meets the brother of Malky, Gorbals (McConnochie), on his way to join the gang to get even with Charlie Sloan. The story moves along in a disarmingly violent pace — culminating in the murder of one of Lex’s brothers, which leaves Lex guilt-ridden.
It is a film that tried to say more than what it is capable of saying but when it was on message it had a stunning affect, showing how the lack of good parenting and a poor environment could be deadly. It caught something real about growing up in such a rough environment, but the acting was not that great. When all is said and done, the brothers were stock characters.
REVIEWED ON 11/16/2000 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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