Movie Review The Angels’ Share
A 2012 movie from the often brilliant Ken Loach, which seems uncertain of its balance between comedy and commenting on social problems, veering from outright farce to scenes of brutality and ultimately showing a strangely maverick view to crime. The movie is set in Glasgow, and the Scottish Highlands.
Paul Brannigan plays Robbie, a violent young offender who is put on a community services programme instead of being sent to prison as a gesture of good-will as his girlfriend is heavily pregnant. Unfortunately, though intent on going straight, Robbie is attacked by his girlfriend’s family, who want to force him to leave town and leave her too. He daren’t fight back as that could lead to a very long prison sentence for him.
On the birth of his son, Robbie is treated to a whiskey by his caring Community Service manager, Harry, played by John Henshaw, and develops a genuine fascination for Scottish Whisky. Harry takes Robbie to a distillery, where Robbie learns of the Angel’s Share of the title – the whisky lost from a cask-conditioned barrel by evaporation, which is seen as having gone to the angels.
Robbie also learns of an auction of a rare malt-whisky that could be worth a million pounds, and hits on a plan to steal some for a private collector, using his Community Service chums to help him out.
Though the thieves are bumblingly incompetent, the heist is surprisingly hitch free and lacking real tension, and the success of the mission allows Robbie to take his girlfriend and son away for a new life away from the violent Glasgow streets.
There are moments of genuine humour and pathos, as well as a sense of how dangerous things are around Robbie, but ultimately he is saved by middle class crooks from the simple thuggery of the working classes, with people often depicted in movies as unscrupulous being surprisingly pleasant to him. The characters and situations her seem rather contrived. The thieves wear kilts to remind us they are in Scotland and for a rather forced gag as the police hassle them by making the boys show what they are wearing under the kilts.
An opening scene showing one of the support characters falling drunkenly from a train platform through taking a railway official’s instruction’s to step back from the edge too literally is funny, but gives a sense of a different movie and leading protagonist than we actually get later.
Robbie’s heist is seen as his one shot at freedom from his troubles and goes off perfectly for him, giving a sense of fairy tale romance to what, from Loach would normally be a much more tragic dark edged comedy-drama.
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