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Studio: The Criterion Collection
Year: 1970
Cast: David Bradley, Colin Welland, Lynne Perrie, Freddie Fletcher, Brian Glover, Bob Bowes
Director: Ken Loach
Release Date: April 19, 2011
Rating: Not Rated for (adult situations)
Run Time: 01h:51m:07s
Genre(s): foreign

ďI Ė I havenít been nicking for ages now.Ē - Billy Casper (David Bradley)


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The great British filmmaker Ken Loach sees one of his best films come to Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. This uniquest of the now-tired coming-of-age films is a truly unforgettable masterpiece.

Movie Grade: A

DVD Grade: A

Director Ken Loach has spent most of his career making films that focus on a wide variety of horrible social and political situations. Heís done this by focusing his films on specific, intimate subjects, rather than going the route of the docudrama or recreating a tragic, socio-political event. While not a household name in the United States, Loach is beloved on an international front, mainly for films such as 1991ís Riff-Raff, 1993ís Raining Stones, and 2002ís Sweet Sixteen. However, his best known, and most popular film is 1970ís Kes, a movie that also sits at #7 on the British Film Instituteís Top 20 Films of the 20th Century list. Loach formed an independent company just to come up with the small (even by todayís independent film standards) amount of funds needed to make Kes, but such a commitment has paid off in waves, essentially leading the way to the rest of Loachís filmography, and also to the filmís staying power and, this, itís subsequent Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection.

Billy Casper (David Bradley) is a 15-year-old boy growing up in Northern England. The product of a working-class family, Billy might as well live on his own, as his mother (Lynne Perrie) never has any time for him, while his older brother, Jud (Freddie Fletcher), spends too much time beating him. With the other kids at school constantly giving him a hard time and even the teachers seeming to want him out of their lives, Billy finds solace in a small kestrel hawk that he finds on the nearby moors. He soon gives the bird the name Kes, and it isnít long before Billy is spending all of his time with him. Unfortunately, he still has to face his problems in the real world, and before long, those and his life with Kes interact in potentially tragic ways.

For those not accustomed to Loachís relatively slow, languid pacing style, Kes could require some patience. Heís clearly in no hurry to tell this story, but, fortunately, the material lends itself to such a pace. With the focus firmly planted on the main character of Billy, Loach approaches this, and most of his other works in an almost documentary-type way, using a cast of mostly first-time actors, many of which werenít professionally trained. Fortunately, each and every performer is quite good, yet extremely authentic, only adding to the realistic feel of the film. Itís this intimate storytelling style that has kept Loach so endearing, and itís also what makes the ending of Kes so difficult to stomach. Keep tissues close by for this finale, but rest assured, Loach doesnít force-feed this emotional material to his audience like so many of todayís Hollywood hack filmmakers do. Loach has us emotionally connected to the relationship between Billy and Kes from the moment they meet, so regardless of where the pairís story winds up, we, the audience, is going to continue to feel that connection; the sign of a classic film and an exceptional filmmaker to say the least.

Professional actors or not the true success of Kes relies, in large part on the work of David Bradley. As Billy, heís on-screen in almost every scene; a huge challenge for any actor, especially a teenage boy acting for the first time. Bradley is more than up to the challenge though, acting like a pro, yet still coming across as the innocent, naÔve youngster that he assumedly was at the time of filming. He also works extremely well with Freddie Fletcher, who, as his older brother, abuses him constantly, both physically and mentally. This strenuous relationship requires some very tough scenes together, but thereís natural, even brotherly on-screen chemistry between the two inexperienced actors that might not have been there with another pair.

After decades of relative home video unavailability in the U.S., Kes is not only now readily available on DVD and this stunning Blu-ray release, but itís from the best in the business, The Criterion Collection. Iím happy to report that the film has never been available in a better collection than this, beginning with the new 1080p video transfer that presents the film in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. This gorgeous transfer was approved by director Ken Loach and cinematographer Chris Menges, and everything looks great, from the pristine image detail to the near total lack of dirt and debris. The audio isnít as revelatory as the video, but the disc offers a pair of tracks: and LPCM 1.0 mix that is the directorís original soundtrack and the internationally released track in Dolby Digital 1.0, complete with post sync dialogue. A great collection of extras makes this release even more of a gem, including nearly hour-long pieces regarding the making of Kes, and a chronicle of Ken Loachís career, as well as Cathy Come Home, a 1966 Loach film. Rounding out the set is the original trailer for Kes and another great Criterion Collection booklet featuring an essay by film writer Graham Fuller.

Posted by: Chuck Aliaga - June 18, 2011, 11:03 am - DVD Review
Keywords: working-class, sociopolitical, coming-of-age

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