Film Scouts Reviews

"Small Faces"

by Karen Jaehne

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July 12, 1996

Directed by Gillies MacKinnon. Written by Gillies and Billy MacKinnon. Produced by Billy MacKinnon and Steve Clark-Hall. Cinematography by John De Borman. Production design by Zoe MacLeod. Music by John Zeane.

Starring Iain Robertson (Lex MacLean), 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).

It's rare that a really stylish film has enough story to keep it from resting on its cinematic laurels. Small Faces offers extraordinary, unforgettable visual shots - and a tight little tragedy.

Gillies MacKinnon's Scottish film (after doing a Hollywood number with Steve Martin in Simple Twist of Fate) is about three brothers growing up in Glasgow in the 60s, trying to balance their dreams of getting out against the daily violence of ghetto gang life. The family is part of the educated poor, and the eldest brother has a groovy artistic gift. The youngest brother Lex, who is our anchor in this tale, idolizes him and shares his interest - primarily for the hope of seeing a naked girl modeling in drawing class.

But the middle brother belongs to a gang embroiled in battle with another gang, the Tongs. Why do boys lurch into pointless violence? Implicit in the film is an understanding that power over other people is what motivates the untrained mind. The fury with which they pursue each other is almost abstract: some gang must dominate another gang, but then it gets very personal as young Lex tries to penetrate the audacious Tongs.

The leader of the Tongs, Malky Johnson, is played by a star of Trainspotting, and his energy sets the pace for the second half of the film - and it's a tumbling, rumbling time. The actors never make a false movie; it's entirely credible, even the stark stabbing in the ice-skating rink that leaves a red diagonal streak of blood on the screen. We really don't recognize any of these actors, but their faces are in keeping with the title, as explained by MacKinnon himself - "small but worth knowing."

In an interview, MacKinnon told us in his great Scots brogue, "Faces was an expression from the Sixties that meant somebody important, a somebody worth knowing. That's what we tried to do with these characters - make them important." The brothers succeeded in that and have given us a visibly autobiographical work. Going home is never easy, and they've enhanced their memories with Art, but the film stands as a model for that particular artistic quest.

If you like the stories of Italian neo-realism, the style of Peter Greenaway - you can imagine Small Faces. Don't miss it.

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