Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Ratcatcher Movie Poster Image
Gritty yet beautiful coming-of-age film too dark for kids.
  • NR
  • 2000
  • 94 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Characters struggle and suffer through a garbage worker strike and the squalid living conditions of a Glasgow, Scotland housing project in 1973. While characters do find the occasional small bit of happiness and hope amidst the despair, a powerful sense of characters trapped by their circumstances pervades the film.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While resilient in the face of absolute despair, characters are too overwhelmed by their surroundings to emerge as positive role models. Even Da, who is lauded as a hero for saving a boy from drowning, celebrates earning a medal for this by going to the pub to get drunk, where he gets into a fight on the way home.


A boy is shown drowning in a canal after engaging in play-fighting with another boy. Another boy is struck in the side of the head by his mother. Two men find a dead dog. Four teenage boys go around bullying kids, and force a girl to have sex with them in a shed. While not shown, sex is implied through the boys' jeering and the sounds coming from the shed. A white rat is tied to a balloon by the tail and sent flying. A man comes home drunk and bloodied after a fight. This same man later slaps his wife in the face.


A boy and girl of about 12 take a bath together. With the girl, there is full frontal nudity and exposed buttocks, and with the boy, there are exposed buttocks. Three boys encourage another to try and have sex with a girl on a couch. Her shirt is open and her bra is visible. The boy lies on top of her, clothed, while the boys make strong sexual insinuations. Nonsexual nudity: A young girl of about 8 is shown taking a bath in a washtub, naked from the waist up.


Frequent profanity: "f--k," "a--hole," "s--t," "bitch," "p---y," "bastard," "piss."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The father in the film is often shown drunk. Characters smoke cigarettes, including a young boy of about 12. A boy is sent to get his father a beer. He sneaks a sip of the beer, takes a second sip, then spits it out.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ratcatcher, a bleak yet somehow beautiful coming-of-age story about a boy growing up amidst the squalor and nastiness of a Glasgow housing project is not for kids. Early in the film, a boy watches another boy he's playing with drown in a canal, and struggles with the guilt while yearning for an escape from his surroundings. There is frequent profanity (including "f--k" and "s--t"), scenes where boys take turns having sex with a girl, fighting with some blood, and an instance of animal cruelty.

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What's the story?

Against the historical backdrop of 1973 Glasgow, Scotland -- where a months-long garbage worker strike has led to inevitable piles of garbage and vermin infestations -- James (William Eadie) is a boy of around 12 living in a housing project where families are waiting to be moved to less deplorable housing. In a nearby canal, a neighbor boy named Ryan drowns while roughhousing with James. James lives with the guilt of this event while trying to survive the harsh and desperate realities of his day-to-day life. He finds brief moments of happiness through riding the bus to the end of the line, where he finds a house under construction in a field, and through spending time with a slightly older girl the juvenile delinquents in the neighborhood use for sex. As James and his family wait to be transferred, and as the garbage strike drags on, James struggles to find any sense of hope in all of this despair.

Is it any good?

RATCATCHER is an unforgettable film that manages to find tiny moments of beauty in the midst of tremendous poverty and despair. The subject matter is bleak -- the drowning death of a boy, a garbage worker strike, a housing project slowly being vacated -- and there are no heroes. Even James's Da (Tommy Flanagan) who is heralded for saving a boy from a near-drowning death is a drunkard who hits his wife. But all of this ugliness makes the small moments of joy for these characters (often found in escape fantasies) all the more memorable.

The terrible (and often disgusting) realities of a garbage strike and a housing project lacking in acceptable living conditions is presented so convincingly you feel like you can almost smell the garbage piling up. The acting is flawless, as is the direction. While the sex and violence makes this not for kids, Ratcatcher is a timeless film, and definitely one of the best films of the 1990s.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the poverty of a Glasgow housing project in 1973 is presented. How does the film convey the desperation, the violence, the boredom, and despair of families struggling through this difficult time?

  • How is this film similar and different from other films where the struggles of poverty is a central focus?

  • What are some differences between movies made in Hollywood and independent and/or foreign films?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming of age stories

Themes & Topics

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