ninth symphony films - movie reviews

LIAM (2001)

DIRECTOR  -  stephen frears

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  drama

LENGTH  -  90 minutes

RELEASED  -  21 september 2001

DISTRIBUTOR  -  lions gate


liam - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from liam at

buy the dvd from liam at

a liverpool family falls into poverty during the depression with disasterous results.

had its world premiere at the venice film festival.


picture from liam

picture from liam

picture from liam


one out of four possible stars

It is very hard to fall in love with the characters of Liam, given that so many of the characters are rotten souls who donít deserve much pity from the audience. It may sound like a harsh statement, but the conditions and attitudes present in the people of this film are not the most sympathetic. Doing their best to survive during the devastating Depression in Liverpool, England, an Irish family must suffer through heartbreak, unemployment, severe hunger, and poverty to survive the oppressive era. But the way they go about surviving is sometimes annoying and many times insensitive.

The harsh racial attitudes against wealthy Jews in that era is an idea that permeates much of the film. The father of the story, simply known as "Dad," played by Ian Hart, is unable to let go of his prejudices and spends most of the film insulting Jews or standing in the unemployment line. It seems like he hates his wife, thinks his children are annoying, and just canít stand being alive. And the same can probably be said for his wife, known as ďMum,Ē played by Claire Hackett. She is a lonely woman with too much on her mind to be a proper mother to her children and a deep rooted hatred for her life.

Of course the conditions these two people must suffer through are quite intense, director Stephen Frears gives the audience no reason to wish them a happy ending. And even the title character of the film, young boy, "Liam," played by Anthony Borrows, sometimes hits a more annoying note than a sensitive one. The character has a problem with public speaking and stutters horribly when asked important questions, but speaks very well when alone and at ease. One might pity the character for his shortcomings, and he is probably one of the two sympathetic characters in the film.

One of the most interesting characters of the film, "Teresa," Liamís older sister, played by Megan Burns, earns the most empathy from the audience, simply because of her characterís complex problems and depressing future. She is not at all unlikable (as are Mum and Dad) and brings the most heart of the film to her performance. She is the one character who is not obviously black or white in her emotions. The other characters in the film are ruled by one of two emotions, and never does a character change his opinion. That opinion just becomes more intense.

For the Irish population, there is a blanket hatred of the Jewish "oppressors" and the Jewish population unfairly believes the immigrants to be of lesser status and intelligence. None of the characters exist in a grey area between the two sides of hatred, and so character arcs remain stiflingly flat. "Dad" hates Jews in the beginning and he hates them in the end. He becomes more enraged, certainly, but he is too one dimensional of a character. As is "Mum" and most of the supporting characters: Jews and Irish. Of course, one cannot help but pity the poor families of Liverpool, considering how needy so many people were.

Comparing this film to its contemporaries (such as Angelaís Ashes) is hard, given that Frears has actually made this film bleaker, if that is at all possible, than did the filmmakers of Ashes. Incredibly, there is no humor in Liam, barely any warmth from the characters, and not a drop of light at the "end of the tunnel." This film is a thoroughly depressing experience and one can only surmise that this film was not made for entertainment value. Making films for the enjoyment of the public at large is certainly not a requirement for filmmakers, but Liam will probably put off many audiences with its bleak outlook on life. In Liamís world, there are no inherently good humans or people concerned with anyone but themselves.

It doesnít help the filmmakersí cause either that the soundtrack is quite a strange one. Sounding like the track for a completely different movie, the music is not the usual haunting lyrical score of a depressing film. It is the overpowering and annoying notes of what sound like a Western drama trapped in a musical box and it doesnít compliment the film in the least. In fact, the soundtrack makes one notice it and pulls oneís attention away from the narrative, allowing the characters to shift out of focus. But perhaps that isnít such a bad thing, since that would allow one to have a break from the systematically depressing lives of a few Irish immigrants. This film is a hard one to take and whether it is a rewarding experience in that respect is a question for debate.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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