A 12 year old boy accidently contributes to the drowning of another. The boy retreats into himself, away from his desperate family and towards the gang of misfit teens that roam the grimy streets.
Set in the grotty tenements of 70s era Glasgow during a protracted dustman's strike, Lynne Ramsay's powerful first feature relates the story of James (Eadie), a lonely 12-year-old urchin forced deeper into his shell by his accidental part in the drowning of another boy.
As his secret festers inside like so much uncollected rubbish, he drifts away from his hard-drinking Da (Flanagan) and put-upon Ma (Matthews), becoming the runt of a gang of likely borstal candidates and striking up friendships with naive pal Kenny (John Miller) and affection-starved teen slut Margaret Anne (Leanne Mullen). With his family waiting on a council transfer, James journeys to the fringes of the city, where a half-constructed paradise of golden fields and Barratt homes offers flickering hope for a better life, but the rat-infested streets and murky waters of the canal cast a dark spell on the troubled hero.
That you could write a thesis on the line of influence between Ramsay's feature and Ken Loach's Kes, via the respective trilogies of Bill Douglas and Terence Davies, does not detract from the fact that Ratcatcher is one of the finest British films about childhood in recent years.
The naturalistic ensemble acting of the young cast is something to behold, and although the picture is harder than a Glasgow kiss and often unflinchingly bleak, it is also studded with quirky humour and quietly inflected lyricism, the latter used so sparingly that each manifestation becomes a tiny epiphany.
Bare of sentimentalism, and oozing raw authenticity from every dirty pore - the children look old before their time, the adults as if they were never young - Ramsay evokes the strangeness of the everyday world, and through Eadie's melancholy eyes lets us experience the snuffed dream and waking nightmare of a tragic adolescence.
Lyrical, if relentlessly bleak, film that will draw you into the grimy, rat infested streets. Powerful, compelling viewing.