Director Ken Loach is known for his raw, unflinching depictions of working class life. In recent films, though, he’s added quirkier genre elements to the mix. This is certainly true of his latest film The Angels Share which begins as a gritty depiction of petty criminals in Glasgow before transforming into a caper movie with unexpected forays into the world of whiskey appreciation.
The film depicts the grim existence of a violent young thug named Robbie (Paul Brannigan) who, for his latest crime, has narrowly avoided prison and has been sentenced to community service work. Showing slightly more intelligence than his hapless peers, Robbie is taken under the wing of social worker Harry (John Henshaw). Being a whiskey enthusiast (that’s not a euphemism) Harry soon inspires Robbie to take an interest in the finer points of the beverage. As a new father with no job prospects, Robbie decides that his only hope of providing for his girlfriend and baby is to combine his criminal talents with his newfound appreciation of whiskey and along with three bumbling buddies, pull a scam involving an outrageously expensive barrel of the stuff.
This film’s early scenes contain a typically convincing and confronting Loach depiction of people languishing in the hopeless, violent dead-end of life. The scenes involving the great whiskey scam are more upbeat and reminiscent of the comic parts of Trainspotting. In less capable hands this shift to a feel good tone could have been very clunky. Fortunately Loach makes this transition relatively smooth as he slowly draws us into the quirky obsessive world of whiskey appreciation.
Performances in this film for the most part have the naturalism typical of a Loach film and in some cases improvised dialogue. One sequence in which Robbie has to confront one of his victims and their family is particularly affecting. It would have been easy to dismiss Robbie as an abomination but Paul Brannigan’s superbly understated performance manages to humanises him. Still, Robbie’s shift from ignorant thug to whiskey connoisseur seems like a pretty big leap. Also, Robbie’s gormless fellow crim Albert (Gary Maitland) is a bit of a contrived comedy relief, a bit like a Scottish Karl Pilkington.
These minor issues aside The Angels’ Share is an engrossing and heartfelt film about a damaged person trying to find redemption.
Nick’s rating: Three and a half stars.
Director(s): Ken Loach
Release date: 15th Nov 2012
Running time: 101 mins.
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