For nearly 50 years now Ken Loach has been charting his own course with the sort of social realist cinema that’s ensured he’s long had admirers and been beloved in arthouse circles, but has often had difficulty convincing mainstream audiences to give him a chance. It’s a bit of a shame, as while he did go through a period where his films were a bit of a slog, he usually has a knack for making movies that while grounded in an often deprived or desperate social world, still manage to be entertaining and truly believe in the possibilities of human beings. That’s certainly true of The Angels’ Share.
Robbie (Paul Brannigan) hasn’t started out well in life. After narrowly avoiding jail, he vows to turn over a new leaf due to the fact he’s about to welcome his first child into the world. However the world around him isn’t that interested in giving him a second chance. His girlfriend’s family think he’s scum (because of his father) and want to run him out of town, he can’t get an interview for a job because of his criminal record, and he wonders whether his life is essentially over before it’s begun.
However his supervisor on community service, Harry (John Henshaw), seems to believe in him, and introduces him to the delights of whiskey – not to get drunk on, but to appreciate as a connoisseur. With little hope on the horizon and a new baby to look out for, Robbie hatches a plot – along with some of his community service buddies – to get hold of some of the world’s most exclusive, and expensive, whiskey.
Although The Angels’ Share does leave you with the slight sensation that perhaps crime does pay, it’s a surprisingly affecting film, highlighting the difficulties faced by those trying to escape a bad environment, especially if they’ve made mistakes. It’s nice that the movie doesn’t try to paint Robbie as a saint – he has done some bad things and he’s certainly not just a victim of his circumstances, even if those circumstances didn’t give him a great start. It’s more about asking what to do after someone has made mistakes and now genuinely want a new start – how do they get that if all the avenues are closed down for them?
But like Loach’s best, it asks these questions but doesn’t get completely bogged down in grimness, instead using it as a thought-provoking and emotive backdrop for an often humorous caper, where a bunch of young people come up with an unexpected plan to come up with some cash.
Loach has always liked using newcomers and non-professionals in his films, and he’s had another great find in Paul Brannigan, who makes his movie debut with Angel’s Share. As Robbie he has just the right level of streetwise edge mixed with an earnest desire to prove himself. He stars alongside Loach veterans William Ruane, Garry Maitland, John Henshaw and Roger Allam, all of whom give great performances. If there’s one flaw, it’s that it tries to squeeze in more than it can sensibly handle in its running time, so some aspects of the story – such as Robbie’s new fatherhood, and his relationship with Harry – slightly peter out. It still works though, making for a very entertaining movie. Be prepared for some broad Glaswegian accents though.
Overall Verdict: Another entertaining and socially relevant ride from Ken Loach, with plenty of humour and a great sense of hope in the redeemability of human beings.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac