If it ever literally rained stones, Judge Ben Saylor would need a bigger umbrella.
Jimmy (Mike Fallon): When you're a worker, it rains stones seven days a
The films of Ken Loach (director of recent Palme d'Or winner The Wind That Shakes the Barley) often document the trials and tribulations of the working class in Britain, and Raining Stones is no exception in this regard. It's also no slouch as a film, managing to blend moments of comedy and drama to create an interesting story with realistic characters.
Facts of the Case
Coleen (Gemma Phoenix) will be celebrating her First Communion soon. As is the custom, all the girls undergoing this rite of passage will wear a pretty (in other words, expensive) dress.
Unfortunately, Coleen's father Bob (Bruce Jones) doesn't have the money for the dress, though not from lack of trying. He and mate Tommy (Ricky Tomlinson) steal a sheep and try to sell the meat for a profit, only to find the meat is all mutton and thus won't fetch a good price. In the process of peddling the sheep, Bob's van is stolen, further compounding matters.
Undaunted, Bob presses on, offering to unclog people's sewer drains (to disgustingly amusing results) and trying his hand at being a nightclub bouncer. Eventually, Bob grows desperate, setting off a chain of events that leads to the film's surprising conclusion.
As was said in the opening statement, Ken Loach is no stranger to films with the working-class subject matter of Raining Stones. Neo-realist, documentary-style depictions of everyday people are Loach's strong point; with Raining Stones he's got a top-flight cast and strong script to boot.
Jones is excellent as Bob. His character seems like any average Joe you might meet in a bar (or pub, as it were). As written by Jim Allen and acted by Jones, Bob is very human: While he is devoted to his family, he is also bullheaded, brash, and sometimes rather foolish in the decisions he makes to try and stay ahead. Bob is far from a perfect, shining working-class hero, which makes him that much more compelling of a character.
While Jones has by far the biggest role, Tomlinson and Julie Brown (as Bob's wife Anne) contribute strong supporting performances. Tomlinson gets to show the viewer that Tommy's not just a lovable sidekick; in one heartbreaking scene, we see him weep by himself because his grownup daughter has just given him a handout, knowing he's short on cash. Meanwhile, Brown's Anne serves as the voice of reason and steadying influence for her quasi-loose cannon of a husband.
Raining Stones gets its documentary feel from a use of overlapping dialogue and Barry Ackroyd's naturalistic cinematography. I have no idea whether any of the dialogue was improvised, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was because many scenes have that feel. One scene that comes to mind is when Bob and Tommy negotiate the price of a van with a mechanic.
Allen's script warrants commendation for its believable dialogue, and for its three-dimensional characters. Father Barry (Tom Hickey), the town priest, deserves special mention. This is not a typical priest figure that viewers are probably used to seeing. To go into too much more detail would give an important part of the story away, but just be assured that in Allen's handling of Father Barry, he shows how committed he is to making his characters realistic and avoiding years-old Hollywood cliches.
What is probably most impressive, however, is how the film deftly moves between comedy and drama. So many films try to strike this balance and fail miserably (The Family Stone comes to mind), but Loach and Allen are very successful in this regard. The opening scene of the film shows Bob and Tommy struggling to catch the aforementioned sheep, slipping and falling repeatedly, to comic effect. A scene near the end which sees a pair of thugs menace Coleen and Anne in the family's apartment stands in contrast. The film is full of these polar opposites and they always work, thanks to the believable performances and dialogue.
It must also be said that while this film has little in the way of special features, it does remedy one problem that the previous release of Raining Stones suffered from in that there is now an English subtitle track. While it is true that an American can watch this movie without subtitles and understand what's going on, for viewers like me who want to know exactly what is being said, the inclusion of the track is a godsend. In addition, Koch Lorber has corrected the error of its previous DVD release of Raining Stones by presenting the film in widescreen, instead of the full-frame presentation of the film's prior DVD release.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As I said previously, there are scant special features on this release. Other Loach films I own vary on features; some have none, while Sweet Sixteen has deleted scenes and a commentary track with Loach. It would have been nice to hear from Loach on this one, especially considering Allen passed away in 1999; perhaps a tribute featurette could have been put together.
In addition, the image is frequently grainy, which I'm inclined to attribute to what was probably a low budget, rather than any deficiency on Koch Lorber's part.
A skillful combination of drama and comedy, along with realistic characters and situations makes Raining Stones one of the key pictures Ken Loach, or any filmmaker, made in the 1990s.
Despite the lack of substantial special features, Koch Lorber is not guilty due to the inclusion of a subtitle track.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
• Original Theatrical Trailer
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