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Gang Trusters

Come and Glasgow: Laura Fraser plays a rootless urban wanderer
from another era in Gillies MacKinnon's "Small Faces."

Sixties gang life grips Glasgow's youth in 'Small Faces'

By Richard von Busack

DIRECTOR Gillies MacKinnon's Small Faces is an artfully told, very well-acted, but occasionally gloomy, tale of three brothers in poverty-stricken Glasgow in 1968. Lex, nicknamed "Wee Man" (Iain Robertson), is a young artist overshadowed by the accomplishments of his oldest brother, Alan (Joe McFadden), who is on the fast track to art school. His other brother, thick-as-a-brick Bobby (J.S. Duffy), is already swept into the gang fighting that's inundated most of the local young men.

MacKinnon (The Playboys), who co-wrote the script with his brother, Billy, takes some of the sting out of the story with humor and nostalgia--and a soundtrack by the Spencer Davis Group and Cream. Music as well as art softens the edges of this grim northern ghetto. MacKinnon's almost painterly edits of the action leaven the moroseness, as do the low-comic touches in the portrayal of monstrous gang leader Malky (Kevin McKidd of Trainspotting).

Robertson makes an appealing lead, a boy distracted by his desire to grow up just like his older brothers, and not sure whether to take the path of the paintbrush or the switchblade. The MacKinnons' script--and this is interesting in a kitchen-sink movie--doesn't directly blame the system or the adult world. The mother of the family (touchingly portrayed by Clare Higgins) does her best for her sons, and there is support for the arts--often in odd places. One of the gangsters ("a real-working class Medici," Lex calls him) offers to buy a painting and tells Alan, "Y'been looking at a lot of Egon Schiele's paintings, am I right?" Small Faces veers into high tragedy followed by an irresolute ending, copped from Raising Arizona. And yet MacKinnon has crafted some moments as good as anything on screen this year, including a wild, frightening chase on stolen bicycles away from a pursuing gang called the Tongs, a night-time raid on the local art museum and a song sung in Gaelic by Higgins at a boisterous, drunken party. Be aware that the Weegie accent is full flower here; even if you have an ear for it, you're bound to miss at least a few lines of dialogue.

Small Faces (R; 108 min.), directed by Gillies MacKinnon, written by Gillies and Billy MacKinnon, photographed by John De Borman and starring Joe McFadden, Iain Robertson and J.S. Duffy.

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From the September 19-25, 1996 issue of Metro

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Copyright © 1996 Metro Publishing, Inc.

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