Director: Ken Loach
British filmmaker Ken Loach has been around for nearly half a century, starting as a television director in England before his first feature, Poor Cow, starring Carol White and Terence Stamp, in 1967. And in all that time, the man’s never broken out into the mainstream, nowhere near a household name in any household outside of his immediate country and the lovely South of France, where he won the Palme d’Or a few years back for his small wartime masterpiece The Wind That Shakes The Barley.
This is an artist who has boldly refused to compromise his creative vision, and that vision is in proper display here, with The Angel’s Share. These days, Loach usually alternates between ultra-serious and decidedly light-hearted social commentary; this new film sits in the latter group. Starring Paul Brannigan as Robbie, a thug with a heart of gold, Loach digs into the current state of employment in Great Britain (and, for the matter, most of the world), especially for the rising generation of twenty-somethings. Robbie’s got a girl and, as the film opens, a new baby boy he is responsible for. Just given his final get-out-of-jail card by the state, he knows what’s at state but not how to escape what has become a life filled to the brim with violence.
The answer: whiskey. For a moment it feels like the film will turn towards Loach’s more revered works of hard-nosed, raw and very real drama. And then the whiskey’s introduced and we see this is more in line with his ’09 Cannes crowd-pleaser Looking For Eric. Make no mistake, The Angels’ Share is out to be enjoyed, as well as offer some hope to those youngbloods looking for work.
Robbie finds a passion for whiskey and the entire distillation process, thanks to his community service officer Harry (John Henshaw), and then a possible to way to make enough money to escape his old life. Of course, this involves committing one, last crime. A very rare cask of whiskey is to go on auction in the Scottish Highlands. If one was to get their hands on it and sell it themselves, they would make a small fortune. Though he be wary, Robbie’s fellow community service delinquents Albert (Gary Maitland), Mo (Jasmine Riggins) and Rhino (William Ruane) join up to make a motley quartet of thieves.
What follows is unabashedly standard heist comedy fare, down to each twist and turn. Loach knows this though, having fun with the gags and jokes had on their journey to the auction and back. Unnecessary and out-of-place gross-out humor aside, the majority of the comedy here works and works well.
For an actor making his debut, Brannigan offers up an impressive amount of charisma, playing off the well-experienced Henshaw nicely. Henshaw anchors the film as a whole, serving as both inspirational force and comic relief whenever either one’s needed. Add to that some beautiful cinematography of a very green, very vast Scottish countryside and there’s more than enough to enjoy from start to finish. The Angels’ Share is simple, fun and altogether smart, the perfect film to cosy up to with an aged glass of whiskey.
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