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Ratcatcher

movie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Ratcatcher

Starring: William Eadie, Leanne Mullen
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Rated: NR
RunTime: 94 Minutes
Release Date: October 2000
Genre: Drama


*Also starring: Craig Bonar, John Miller, Mandy Matthews, Tommy Flanagan, Thomas McTaggart



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

To paraphrase Tolstoy, middle class families are all alike but slum dwellers are different in their own ways. Those who are ghettoized in America's inner cities suffer the pathologies of isolation, but trendy middle-class kids often mimic their style of dress, walk and talk. Those who are ghettoized in Scotland's inner cities suffer as well, but have not formed a distinct culture that any of their more prosperous countrymen would want to echo. In Lynne Ramsay's first feature film, "Ratcatcher," the anguish of living in one of Glasgow's slums during the 1970s is accentuated by a strike of the garbage collectors, known there as dust-men, and through some striking imagery Ramsay captures the ambience of a series of miserable blocks in a Glaswegian tenement district.

The film focuses on an expressive 12-year-old lad named James (William Eadie), whose impoverished family have been waiting for the local council people to move them from a rat- infested area to three-bedroom digs situated in a rural area. While James occasionally laughs, particularly in moments of affection for his sister and while watching his parents cuddle with each other in some rare flashes, he is an unhappy young man whose life has been made just a bit more miserable because he has unwittingly caused the death of a playmate. When James's friend falls into a canal near home, James makes no effort to save him or to alert his family to the tragedy; yet because of his age and his limited outlook, he feels only a limited sense of guilt that a more mature man would be expected to comprehend.

The film opens on a young boy being pressured by his mother to visit his father, but the boy runs off to play and is pushed into a canal by James while the two are having a mud fight, and somehow drowns. While a more commercial film might deal with the tragedy by taking off on the theme of this accidental homicide, Ramsay instead takes us on a journey into the small world of which James is a part. We are introduced to his dad (Tommy Flanagan), who is a drunk but who expresses his affection from time to time for those in his family; his mom (Mandy Matthews), who survives on her hopes for the new home; Margaret Anne (Leanne Mullen), who is sexually exploited by the local gang but whose motives in passively accepting the boys are unexplored; and Kenny (John Miller), James's animal-loving pal, who dreams of being a zookeeper.

Lynne Ramsay's movie tolerates occasional rough editing, and the story is episodic rather than tightly-knit--and deliberately so. The director is intent on conveying the ambience of slum life in Scotland's largest city thirty years ago and appears to pay homage to Francois Truffaut's 1959 masterpiece, "The 400 Blows." But she departs from the French director's theme by portraying young people who spend their days in routine petty mischief and casual sexual exploits where Truffaut emphasized the life of small-time crime among Parisian youth who are reacting to derelict parents. Ramsay's strongest point is not the story, since this Ken Loach-like tale is scarcely an original take on the lower depths. Instead she hits an emotional chord in her audience by a series of masterly images, the best being a surreal shot of a pet mouse which Kenny shackles to a basket and, with the help of a toy balloon launches the rodent all the way to the moon. If James cannot be equally airborne, he can escape from the blunt dramas of his sordid family life by taking a bus trip as far as he has ever been--to a corn field on which sits the half-finished house that his family hopes soon to inhabit.

William Eadie's acting helps make this drama an enlightening and intense experience. Whether he joins his fellows in taking out his frustrations by beating the huge rats that inhabit the mountains of garbage on his block, or looks with some hope on a future free of the lice-infested neighborhood made all the worse during the dust-men's strike, he is at the core of this naturalistic tale. The final scene is the piece de resistance, comparing James's actual fate with what have been.

Copyright 1999 Harvey Karten

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