Small Faces (1996) Poster


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One of the key Bristish films of the decade
MOscarbradley27 July 2005
The gifted Scottish director Gillies MacKinnon made this wonderfully fresh film about growing up in Glasgow in the late sixties and which he co-wrote with his brother Billy. It has the same feel for time and place and what it's like to be a teenager in a slightly idealized, hyper-realist past but it's an altogether more kinetic work full of great visual flourishes.

It centres on the three Maclean brothers, the deeply troubled, almost psychopathic Bobby who is a member of one of two rival gangs, (J S Duffy), Adam who is a talented artist hoping to go to Art School, (Joe McFadden) and the youngest Lex, who like Adam also has a talent for art but who also fosters some of Bobby's rebellious spirit (Iain Robertson). When Lex accidentally shoots a member of the rival gang in the eye, the boys find themselves caught up, in an almost surrealist fashion, in the conflict which turns very nasty indeed. MacKinnon may be dealing with such conventional issues as gang warfare but he treats the material in ways movies haven't done before. Adults, such as the boy's mother, (beautifully played by Clare Higgins), remain very much on the fringe.

This is a violent, darkly funny but mostly tragic film and the performances from the mostly young cast are extraordinary, in particular from J S Duffy and Iain Robertson and from Garry Sweeney as the vicious leader of Bobby's gang. The film wasn't widely circulated or seen and consequently was not a commercial success yet it remains one of the key British films of the past 10 years.
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The best movie that no one has ever heard of...
Mudflap15 February 1999
Without a doubt one of the finest gang/youth films ever! I know several guys who grew up in Glasgow in the 1960's and I'll never look at them the same way again, (And, I thought that the gang members in Boyz N' the Hood were tough... They have nothing on Charlie Sloan and the boys: "Glen ya' Bass!"). The only down side to the film is that I had to watch it with the close captioning on, because I their accents were too strong for me to follow. Anyway, a fantastic effort + a must see! Some other IMDb patron said: "I wish I could make the whole world see this movie" - I myself can't put it better than that.
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It rewards those who stay with it
shobill22 January 2005
In late-1960s Glasgow, three teenage brothers from a fatherless home in a lower working class neighborhood struggle to survive among the chaos and violence that is part of their subculture. The oldest has serious mental problems and a learning disability associated with his acting out. The middle brother tries to steer clear of it all as he struggles to pursue his artistic talent. And the story is told from the viewpoint of Lex, the 13-year-old, whose childish delinquency becomes serious business when he is forced into adult situations. At the beginning I had difficulty with the heavy Scottish dialect and had some confusion of characters and events, but I was drawn in by the progression of events and the development of the characters. This is a poignant coming-of-age story that rewards us if we stay with it.
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Unsentimental, bleak, funny, brutal and life-affirming
cheekyian23 October 2002
Small Faces stands out as an unsentimental and unpatronising glimpse of the life of 1960s working class youth in Glasgow. The film is directed with a light touch and brilliantly conveys the experience of growing up in the slums with the stereotypical escape-routes of gangs, drink and education. In refusing to romanticise its subject matter the film is bleak, funny, brutal and life-affirming all at the same time.
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Quag71 March 2002
I caught this film late night on the Sundance channel. It is extraordinarily well done. It's good to see more and more cinema from the UK showing on cable here in the US.

Small Faces doesn't insult your intelligence, and it doesn't have any affectations. Its setting in the 60s is almost incidental; as someone else mentioned, there's no attempt here to glorify or overstate the setting for stylistic reasons.

And I must say, some of the camera-work is beautiful. One shot in particular stands out; Lex stands in a large vacant lot, puddles reflecting the sky, near the Tongs' apartment building. Something in this shot is alternately so deliberately composed for its "ugly beauty" and at the same time completely unpretentious and real and necessary. The kid who plays the lead, Iain Robertson, does an incredible job and seems almost an inorganic part of the urban wreckage around him.

No clichés. No insult to your intelligence. Just a story, well told, superbly acted, and superbly shot. This film is a textbook on how to make a good drama. Just one of many superb films from the UK (another recent good one was The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner) that we've been deprived of over here until now.

First rate.
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Why Does It Always Rain On Me!
James.S.Davies10 April 2000
A gritty, realistically drawn out rights of passage film, this was an impressive return to form for writer/director MacKinnon after his brief Hollywood fling. Overall the film, although essentially a nostalgic look at a young Glasgow boy coming of age in 1968, manages to steer clear from over romanticising the past as so often happens with such an exercise. This is largely due to an impressive cast, realistic location filming, and a refreshingly simple (especially in light of recent Brit flicks) down to earth pop soundtrack. Its not too preoccupied with presenting a hip representation of 1960s culture which may have prevailed its realism.

Lex is the youngest of three brothers MacLean being brought up by a single mother in a grubby tenement flat. His brothers are greatly contrasting in character; Alan a sensitive, aspiring artist, and Bobby an illiterate and unpredictable gang member. It is the former that Lex looks up to rather than Bobby who he sees as a "moron". Much of the film's central concerns seem to lie in these two contrasting sides of Lex's up-bringing. He lives in a world where artistic expression, or any such kind of creativity, is stifled. This being graphically represented by the beating of a young artist at the hands of a local gang. We also learn of this character's father's fruitless attempts to produce grapes in the middle of Glasgow. The only escapism and means of capturing anything remotely extrisnic for the likes of Lex and Alan is through their art. Ultimately though it is intelligence which prevails when Malky's ignorant act leads directly to his destruction.

Early scenes serve to establish the family life of the MacLean's. Sometimes these seem rather idealistic, such as family gatherings and sing-songs. The singing seems to be a motif for happier times; it doesn't return until directly after Malky's death in a comical children's sing-a-long at a Saturday matinee. Although family life is not disregarded, never can adults successfully communicate with the youngsters. The attempts by an American uncle to have some influence over the boys is ineffectual, and the mother seems to have little control over them. Also there curiously seems to be no intervention by the police into the gang violence.

As Lex is the central protagonist we are often given his perspective of events. An earlier gang encounter at a fairground is received from his point of view, which is then followed by a man leading an elephant across a field. Such surreal imagery is almost a childlike representation of events. Shaky camera movements during his drunken stupor are further indication of the camera allowing us to identify ourselves with him.

On the whole the film is well-crafted. Some striking images such as the track of red blood across the ice rink after Bobby's is stabbed and great attention to detail are a credit to the director. As well as some clever aesthetic touches the film boasts to its credit some endearing performances by what is mainly a young cast, especially young Ian Robertson as Lex whom our affection for is essential to our enjoyment of the film. Despite the film's violent content we rarely lose sight of humour or hope.
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Glasgow in the past. A good film!
maxim_tsigalkol6 December 2005
I nearly passed this movie up as the film guide had written a poor review (do they even watch the films?). In the end I watched the start intending to go to bed and ended up watching the whole film.

What interested me most was the picture the film gave of life in Glasgow during the 60's. The landscape of the film is one of endless factory's, warehouses and derelict buildings. All of which seem to look back to the past. The streets of Govanhill where the Glyn live are cobbled and winding narrow passages. Later in the film we are shown 'tong land'. Three massive tower blocks seemingly standing in the middle of a waste land. At the road leading in some graffiti reads 'you are now entering tong land'. The bleak concrete land in which they live is very striking and seems to belong more to the 70's than Govanhill which seems to belong back in the 1800's.

The film itself is good and I doubt anyone would be disappointed were they to watch it.
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Little gem
Balthazar-52 February 2005
Life in the tough end of Glasgow in the late 1960s is delightfully and sometimes painfully presented here. This is clearly a work of well-observed autobiography by the Mackinnon family - Billy the writer/producer and Gillies the director.

At the centre of the film is the Maclean family - widowed mother with sons Bobby (none too bright), Alan (budding artist in spite of being brought up in the tough end of Govan) and narrator Lex, only 13 and still not sure what life is all about. Iain Robertson's performance as Lex is so good that it is barely credible that he has not reappeared in anything more worthy of his acting talent.

The film sets up a series of oppositions - gangs (Glens versus Tongs); romantic family life vs tough and unromantic street life; loyalty vs betrayal. Far from resulting in simplification, this actually makes the life of young Lex even more complex as he is, sequentially, drawn to each aspect of these opposing ideas.

Director Gillies shows he knows how to film his environment and gives us telling and memorable images - such as a huge close-up of blood running down a plug-hole that looks like some work of abstract art.

Nowhere near as clichéd as most coming-of-age movies, this is a joy for teenagers and adults alike.
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One Of The Better Films To Have Been Produced In Scotland
Theo Robertson6 December 2005
SMALL FACES is a Scottish film set in Glasgow during the late 1960s and follows the lives of three brothers from the Maclean family : Bobby a member of the Glen Gang , Alan who has ambitions of going to art school and Lex a thirteen year old boy and like the character of Taylor in PLATOON where the main character finds himself being split between the violent pragmatism of Barnes and the humanity of Elias young Lex is split between what brother makes the better role model

It's a complex tale that is character driven which explains why none of the comments on this page has really gone in to the plot details and if you're expecting a violent tale with youths slashing each other with razors every five minutes then you'll be disappointed . There is violence of course and some people may bleat that it lives up to the " Glesga keelie " stereotype but I disagree and it's interesting to note that the traditional battle lines of Glasgow gangs being drawn from their ethnic background ( Irish Catholic and Scottish Protestants ) is never discussed .

Despite having a small budget director Gillies MacKinnon makes the most of what he's got and watch the scenes where characters view Tongland ( Is it the notorious Gorbals ? ) which resembles a bleak alien city . The cast are uniformly excellent with veterans like Clare Higgins and Ian McElhinney appearing alongside up and coming Scottish actors like Kevin McKidd and Laura Fraser but the two best performances are by Iain Robertson as Lex and Garry Sweeney as gang leader Charlie Sloan which is just as well since most of the movie rests or falls on these two characters , though strangely neither young actor has gone on to have a sparkling career which is a pity
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Pretty good
neil_mc8 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The hopelessness of the characters, the sparseness of the locations and the bleakness of the plot all go towards making this a very well-made no-thrills drama. The film plays a real blinder by making the young teenage brother the main character in the story, and rather than have a soapy, watered down, immature vision of everything around him, we get an honest and streetwise teenage depiction of a pretty depressing Glasgow.

The film really benefits from this realism, and although characters like Malky Johnson threaten to overflow into creeezy Scottish caricature, it manages to stay on the right side of believable by getting rid of him before the end.

As you would expect, the accents are heavy, but any Brit should follow it easily as long as their recording off the TV is a good one. Mine wasn't unfortunately, but I got by.
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paulgeaf3 December 2003
If you see this in the TV listings, local videoshop, wherever, Get It! You will not find a more accurate movie that conveys the state of Glaswegian upbringing as it was and still is today. The violence, the course language and the way the young 'gangs' live and breathe on machismo and fights. The film shows an artist boy who is somewhat out of place in the world he finds himself living in. With his rather maniacal brother Bobby who just loves to go and fight the 'TONGS'. There is a younger brother in this family who becomes more of a central character as the film progresses. I don't want to give the story away so I will just say, if you want a true drama with no frills, fluff or effects, violence shown as it is, brutal and frightening (although I dont mean to put you off as it is highly watchable and not TOO brutal) -the utter desperation that some people live in and not only when this film is set in but today too. I know, I have lived in a similiar world. Nothing has really changed. If you want to find out just what this is like..GET THIS MOVIE! If you are from Glasgow or most places in central scotland - GET THIS MOVIE! Thats all :)

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You have to see this outstanding film.
whitwill18 June 2006
Thank you Sundance for bringing this outstanding film to my attention. What a pity it did not have wider attention and distribution. I was completely drawn into the horror of Glasgow gang life and found myself totally absorbed by the direction, acting and story line of this amazing movie. I cannot recommend it highly enough. The realism of the sets and acting was incredible. One of the most horrifying parts of the film for me was the indifference of some girls who instigated a brutal beating of one of the characters, and then watched without evident remorse. Even the final credits had a special touch with the soundtrack of "In the Year 2525", which somehow I had never heard before, but could not have been more appropriate. Wonderful film from beginning to end. A MUST SEE!
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Arty but slipshod
paul2001sw-19 December 2005
A trio of artistic brothers get drawn into gang warfare in 'Small Faces', Gillies Mackinnon's portrait of growing up in 1960s Glasgow. But I found this film uninvolving, the violence is presented in a stylised, almost comic fashion and detached from its social context; for me, the motivations of the characters never quite stack up and the story lacks the impact it might otherwise possess. It's also a surprise that the relatively middle class heroes all speak in thicker accents than the vicious gang leaders. The plot drives a bit more interest into the later stages of the film, but it's still a strange hybrid: 'Trainspotting' meets 'Grange Hill' with a bit of arty directing thrown in to boot. I found it dull.
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a needle in a haystack
Goodfela-216 November 1998
this is truly one of my favourite films. i just wish i could make the world see it.
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Beth-185 October 1998
Scotland, the 60s, football, art, black humour... all the best things in life!
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criminally overlooked film
anemoni3 September 2001
Small Faces is a small cinematic gem;a rites of passage story set in the ganglands of 60's Glasgow told in a gritty, realistic style, yet infused with humour and sympathy for its characters, this film is too good to miss. Do yourself a favour and watch it now!
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Glasga gangs story
quadrophenia-6952422 July 2019
So watched this loads of times came out the same time as trainspotting another film but made in Edinburgh this one about a wee lad who shoots a guy in the eye with a spud gun and his upstairs neighbour is a mod who hears all about it he runs combrie team and the other who the lad shoots with the spud gun runs the tongs ya bass it has lots of twists and turns the part with the skeleton his brothers room was funny and the bit where lad is being the host and keeps drinking every time he goes to get more drink for them till he looses his temper
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nicesunnyday14 June 2011
The first time I watched this film I was probably around 15 and I really enjoyed it. I have watched it a couple of times since but not for many years - I'm going to watch it soon though! I decided to write a review in response to watching the film NEDs which is a very similar story (Glasgow 1970s). But I found it to be a terrible film in comparison to Small Faces.

I thought Small Faces was realistic with a humorous touch. The characters were all very well cast and the actors did a brilliant job.

I give it 9 stars. Maybe a bit generous but after watching NEDs i was reminded how much better it was.
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