16 Years of Alcohol (2003)
Director: Richard Jobson
Cast: Kevin McKidd, Laura Fraser, Susan Lynch
Synopsis: 16 years of alcohol is about a skinhead named Frankie; his violent childhood, alcoholism and his love for Ska.
There’s a certain prerequisite for films about alcoholics, a somewhat predictable arc to the character’s lives: the introduction, seduction, obsession and descent, followed sometimes by redemption. The very nature of the subject make these things inevitable and, let’s face it, forms most of the enjoyment derived from them for most of us. There but for the grace of God and all that. So when a filmmaker (and a novice one at that) steps outside of the formula, one has to admit to a certain amount of admiration at their courage and, in the case of 16 Years of Alcohol at least, an unfortunately large degree of astonishment that a first-timer has been given such a long leash with which to hang himself.
Former Skids front-man and Sky movie critic Richard Jobson’s tale of Frankie (Kevin McKidd — The Last Legion), an Edinburgh hard man addicted to a life of alcohol and crime, is based on both his own past and that of his brother who, unlike both Jobson and Frankie, never managed to tear himself free from his self-destructive tendencies. It contains all the ingredients of a tough and gripping story — the working-class milieu of spit-and-sawdust pubs, backstreet sex, gang culture, and the slender opportunity of redemption that has to be recognised by the protagonist before it can be grasped. But, suicidally, Jobson chooses to marry such well-travelled kitchen-sink dramatics to an art-house pretentiousness that destroys every ounce of integrity the story may have contained. His choices simply don’t work. They alienate the viewer by turning the story’s anti-hero into some kind of self-pitying martyr to his inner torment, as if this somehow justifies the acts of violence he carries out. Jobson also subjects us to increasingly pretentious voice-overs that not only test our patience, but leave us with the strong suspicion that this Frankie is nothing more than a self-important and self-absorbed egotist.
Considering its theme of hope and hopelessness, we are also given little to allow us to identify with Frankie. His alcoholism, which is presumably both the cause and symptom of his hopelessness, is barely touched upon. We see him taking the odd nip as a kid, and a couple of swigs from a hip flask but that’s about it, and it’s nowhere near enough to suggest it has become the driving force of his life. Redemption arrives in the form of a pretty girl, and is then summarily dismissed by Frankie because he presumably hasn’t completed his journey of self-discovery. Only when his story begins to echo, in divergent ways, that of his father does Frankie gain the maturity required to move forward with his life.
Jobson is clearly a talent to be watched. He has a nice eye for an arresting composition, and it is refreshing that he opted away from the washed-out, grainy look so often favoured by directors for this kind of subject. But he needs a guiding hand, because he has been given too much of a free one here and, if he does continue to develop and evolve as a viable director he may well one day look back at this piece of pretentious claptrap with an acute sense of embarrassment.