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The Criterion Collection presents
Ratcatcher (1999)

"You killed Ryan Quinn. You killed him, you killed him, you killed him!"
- Kenny (John Miller)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: January 23, 2003

Stars: William Eadie, Tommy Flanagan, Mandy Matthews
Other Stars: Michelle Stewart, Lynne Ramsay Jr., Leanne Mullen, John Miller, Jackie Quinn, James Ramsay
Director: Lynne Ramsay

Manufacturer: Criterion Post
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, nudity)
Run Time: 01h:33m:46s
Release Date: September 10, 2002
UPC: 037429171820
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-B+B C+

DVD Review

The lot of the urban poor in modern Scotland is generally grim, but when circumstances conspire to make their lives even worse, the breaking point can be reached rather easily. Director Lynne Ramsay's first feature film explores such a situation against the setting of the 1973 garbage strike that left the lower classes buried in a sea of ever-increasing waste, threatening to bury whatever modest hopes and dreams that they might have.

The story follows James Gillespie (William Eadie), a boy of about 12, in Glasgow during these dreary days. In the opening sequence, James manages to accidentally kill a playfellow, though none of the adults are aware that it was anything other than an accident. Against an ever-increasing sensation of guilt, James experiences intimacy with neighborhood girl Margaret Anne (Leanne Mullen), fear from the roving packs of older boys and the drunken rages of his Da (Tommy Flanagan). At the same time, James has modest hopes of finding a better life, symbolized by a new housing development going up in a field, which continually draws him to explore it.

Without a tight narrative flow, the picture has more of an elegaic feel to it. The opening is rather startling, as Ryan Quinn (soon to be drowned) winds himself in his mother's lace curtains, prefiguing a burial shroud, while its laciness symbolizes the fragility of his young life. The intimacy that James finds is oddly not sexual, despite the greater maturity of the older Margaret Anne; although they share a bathtub and he watches her urinate, they don't seem to have any sexual spark with one another, but have more of a feeling of simply grasping onto any comfort that might be available. Their first touch is limited to fingering Margaret Anne's open running sore on her leg, possibly bespeaking the fearsome nature of her menarche on James' immature mind. James' hopes, pinned on the development, are also quite ambiguous; though he is clearly wistful for an improved place to live, he also helps destroy the new development even before it's up, and spoils his family's chances of getting a spot by letting the housing council into his home while his Da is sprawled out drunk. This ambivalence follows through to the very ending, which is ambiguous in going back and forth between two different possible fates for James, though only one really follows the tone of the preceding picture and the other is plainly fantasy.

The youngsters in the cast are excellent, with the jug-handle-eared William Eadie giving James a blank face reaction to nearly everything, whether life or death or sex, but retaining an endless fascination with water in a variety of forms. His consciousness of his guilt seems to come and go, though his slightly odd friend Kenny (John Miller), who both loves animals and manages to be cruel to them as well, doesn't let him forget his responsibility. Kenny is also responsible for a remarkable fantasy sequence involving his mouse Snowball, which he tied to a helium balloon, winding up on the moon and there congregating with other mice.

The overall tone is exceedingly grim, fantasy notwithstanding, and the viewer despairs of these youngsters ever growing up to even be as valuable to society as their drunken and abusive parents. There is no redemption possible, nor any dreams beyond the fantasy world on television embodied by Tom Jones. Ramsay's bleak outlook is sure to dim whatever spark of joy the viewer might hold in his heart. This isn't the Scotland of I Know Where I'm Going!, by a long shot.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is quite attractive in its drabness, with good detail. Minor speckling is present. The constantly overcast skies limit the color palette, but what's here generally looks quite fine. There's plenty of grain but that's to be expected and consistent with the thematic material.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Scottishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Scottish language Dolby Surround track features some moderate hiss. Dialogue is usually unintelligible, but this is a result of the heavy accents of the cast rather than than any problem of the transfer. The surround activity is atmospheric and gives a creepy feeling to the opening sequence, with its sounds of children playing. The music, an odd contrivance of a piano with linoleum across the keys, provides a suitably peculiar background to the bleak story.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 0h:47m:14s

Extra Extras:
  1. Three short films by Lynne Ramsay
  2. Stills gallery
Extras Review: Criterion provides an interview (22m:16s) with Ramsay, presented in anamorphic widescreen, in place of a full comentary. The editing is choppy and irritating, but the content regarding her short career thus far and the making of the feature have interest. An anamorphic theatrical trailer is here as well. Three of Ramsay's short films, Small Deaths (1995), Kill the Day (1996) and Gasman (1997) address much of the same thematic material from several other viewpoints. The first is more a series of vignettes amongst lower class Scottish children, while Kill the Day features James Ramsay (who plays Ryan Quinn's father in Ratcatcher) who burgles lockers in order to obtain money for drugs to insulate himself from the world. Gasman is the most coherent as a little setpiece featuring James Ramsay again, this time as the father of two families, trying to take them to a Christmas party and having to deal with sibling rivalry between the girls. The shorts are presented in nonanamorphic 1.66:1 ratio.

A good set of production notes gives a nice introduction to the film and Ramsay's brief career. Thankfully, English subtitles are included to make the incoherent speech plain to the English speaker. Wrapping up the package is a still gallery with several different thematic sections to choose from.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

A grim feature, a Scottish Kids without the sex, given a decent transfer and some interesting extras.


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