Opening in Greenock, a rundown town near Glasgow, "Sweet Sixteen" follows teenage scally Liam (Compston) as he struggles to prepare for the release of his ex-heroin addict mum from prison.
Desperate to try and build them a proper family home, Liam needs money. And fast. Muscling in on his mum's boyfriend's drug business, Liam and his pal Pinball (Ruane) set themselves up as dealers, displaying an entrepreneurial skill that has little other outlet on Glasgow's unemployment-ridden estates.
Taking place in the shadow of the closed-down shipbuilding yards, "Sweet Sixteen" rages against the callousness of a capitalist system which abandons its workers.
As Liam works his way up through the ranks of the local underworld, director Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty put an ironic spin on the Thatcherite ethos of entrepreneurial self-help. Liam's astute business sense (in one hilarious scene, he convinces the local pizza delivery boys to work as his drug couriers) is an insightful inversion of the very forces that have crushed this community.
Sparkling with wit and insight, the drama never loses sight of the social and economic factors that drive these characters towards their fate. As the film's unforeseen conclusion hits, you suddenly remember that this young man is really nothing but a boy after all.
Loach's films are often shunted to the sidelines as 'political' or 'difficult'. But "Sweet Sixteen" is outstanding film making and the director's best film in years.