Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Director Ken Loach offers a moving look at the plight of the lower class in Raining Stones. 'Grafting' is the only way that the chronically unemployed Bob can stay ahead of the rent, and Loach and writer Jim Allen sympathize with their put upon hero while agonizing over his unwise decisions. Loach has been making compelling movies about poverty ever since Poor Cow and Kes back in the 1960s. With its compelling characters and fast-moving story, Raining Stones is a satisfying experience. It won a Jury prize at Cannes in 1993.
Unemployed Lancashire resident Bob (Bruce Jones) can barely keep his family together through various petty crimes. After 'nicking' a sheep and trying unsuccessfully to sell its mutton, Bob's van is stolen, curtailing his ability to get work. Debts are mounting yet Bob is intent on scraping together a large sum to pay for a fancy First Communion dress for his daughter Coleen (Gemma Phoenix). Bob and his friend Tommy (Ricky Tomlinson) fall in with other schemes, including stealing turf from a country club. Bob takes on a job as a bouncer at a dance hall but cannot keep up with the younger, tougher thugs; he also discovers that Tommy's daughter Tracey (Geraldine Ward) is a drug pusher. Bob tells his long-suffering wife Anne (Julie Brown) that he's won a bet and can pay for the dress, when he's actually borrowed the money. A couple of weeks later the debt is purchased by loan shark Tansey (Jonathan James), who forces his way into Anne's kitchen and threatens both her and Coleen. Bob sets out to track Tansey down ... but stops off at the Pub for a drink.
Raining Stones is about poverty and the lower class, all right, and doesn't mind making a few direct statements about inequality. Bob and Tommy are slipping into middle age without a profession and finding it increasingly difficult to work as day laborers. They make the rounds of the social service offices and take home assistance vouchers to help put food on the table. Just the same, Bob's adorable daughter Coleen asks if Jesus ate beans at his Last Supper, like her family does.
Bob's father-in-law works in a social services office of some kind and rants about the need for a socialist takeover. He points out the young kids on the street arguing over drugs, but Bob can't think farther than his immediate needs. His pleasant wife Anne tries to get a job in a shop but hasn't worked a sewing machine in years and can't keep up. She and a friend witness one of their neighbors, a housewife heavily in debt, as she's taken away in an ambulance after a suicide bid. Anne says that they all think they'll get somewhere when they're young, but realize soon enough that nothing of the kind will happen.
Ken Loach wisely does not allow Raining Stones to become depressing. It's actually quite funny at times (a joke about a miracle at Lourdes is really good) and Bob and Tommy's foolish willingness to get into trouble can't help but make us smile. They're not quite Laurel and Hardy but they do make fools of themselves, thinking they can get into the Hot Mutton racket by snatching a sheep off the moors. Try though he may, Bob isn't enough of a brute to hold a bouncer's job for even a couple of hours.
Bob's Catholic faith becomes a major part of his problem -- and his salvation. Unable to interest homeowners in a drain-cleaning idea, he volunteers to help the kindly Father Barry with the church sewer line. Father Barry tries to dissuade Bob from overspending on a Communion Dress, but Bob insists on his girl going down the aisle in a costly new outfit as a matter of pride and dignity. "She has to be just as good as the other girls", Bob complains, even though Anne also thinks the expense is risky. Bob dutifully tries to explain transubstantiation to little Coleen, having a hard time remembering what it means himself. Unlike so many movies about the poor, Raining Stones does not blame the Catholic Church for Bob's problems. Father Barry in fact provides key guidance when Bob needs it most.
The story becomes scary when Bob's debts put his family in harm's way. The terrifying thug Tansey invades Anne's home and reduces her to tears, threatening to scar Coleen's face. Bob has to make some kind of stand, knowing full well that he's no match for the hoodlum. The movie shows its own sense of mercy by giving Bob a break, and further developing the theme of faith. In the first scene Bob is incapable of killing a sheep with an axe handle, and he later faces off against Tansey in much the same manner. Bob will steal if he must but his faith is a moral barrier that protects him from his own worst instincts. As a final touch, a pair of policemen arrives a day later. Bob has never been able to go to the cops for help, but they show up like angels of mercy.
The acting in Raining Stones is terrific, with great performances from all concerned. Bruce Jones (The Full Monty) is particularly good as the desperate but optimistic Bob, who can smile through a face-ful of bruises and cuts. Julie Brown (V for Vendetta) is neither a victim nor a fool as the poverty line housewife. We're informed that Jonathan James, who plays the frightening loan shark Tansy, makes his normal living as a comedian and singer. It's difficult to believe.
Koch Lorber's DVD of Raining Stones is a good enhanced transfer with grain and subdued colors that may represent its correct theatrical appearance. The English dialect with its many swallowed syllables is frequently incomprehensible to us Americans, which makes the optional English subtitles a godsend. A trailer is the only extra.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Raining Stones rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 25, 2007
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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