‘The Angels’ Share’ Review: Ken Loach Pours Engaging Shot of Scotch

'The Angels' Share' Review: Ken Loach Pours Engaging Shot of Scotch

The Glasgow-set comedy is really a heist yarn with a conscience — and a Scottish brogue

Ken Loach, the 76-year old, British filmmaker best known for his bleak political dramas such as “The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” “Bread and Roses” and “Ladybird Ladybird,” has with “The Angels' Share” made a wee, entertaining comedy about the theft of high-priced scotch in Scotland.

Like most Loach films, it starts out focused on those barely clinging to the bottom rung of the social ladder, this time in Glasgow. Robbie (newcomer Paul Brannigan), a skinny runt of a young man, is up before a judge who'll decide whether he goes to jail on an assault charge or can do community service instead.

The judge is feeling lenient and Robbie gets community service, a good thing since his girlfriend is about to have their first child. Harry (John Henshaw), the kindly fellow who runs the community service program, takes Robbie under his wing, counseling him against violence, encouraging him to be a father to his new baby son, and introducing him to the pleasures of a decent malt whisky sipped in moderation.

 It takes a while, but it eventually becomes clear that “Angel's Share” is actually a heist film. Make that a heist film with social content.

Robbie spearheads a complicated operation in which, if successful, he and several of his fellow community service mates, all equally urban and ne'er-do-well, will steal a few precious bottles of an unspeakably expensive, 100-plus year old scotch from a barrel in a storage cellar in rural Scotland. Step One of the plan: don kilts.

As he does in many of his films, Loach uses a combination of professional actors and regular folk whose own lives partially parallel those of the characters they're playing. Brannigan fits into the latter category but shows an impressive intensity and slyness that makes him compelling to watch.

Without resorting to using a didactic sledgehammer, Loach makes his points here about the heavy toll of grinding poverty, omnipresent violence and absent parents. But he also makes it clear that, sometimes, all it takes to put a life back on track is one person being willing to help.

Shot on location in Glasgow and the Scottish countryside, the film gives a vivid sense of both. It also provides subtitles for most of the dialogue, a necessity for Americans with ears unused to the indecipherable, heavy Scottish brogues employed by most of the movie's underclass characters.

  • A.L. Hern

    I saw it last Saturday. I've always wanted to go to Scotland, though this film depicts a part of that country I, and most tourists, never really expect to see.

    I suppose that the subject matter dictates that the film be as visually colorless as it is, though such films inevitably take on the scale and feel of television movies, and not true cinema.

    That the reasons for, and consequences of, the heist, itself, are rationalized away by the protagonist — and, therefore, by the filmmakers — is a bit troubling, because in the end it isn't a victim-less crime, even if its ultimate victim never knows that he's had something he considers precious taken from him.

    That in itself tends to vitiate the feel-good part of the message the filmmakers are obviously trying to send, leaving one with the uncomfortable sense that stealing's okay, even if the ill-gotten gains benefit the thief, as long as said thief then turns around and bestows part of his loot on the thoroughly goodhearted individual who unwittingly gave him the idea to carry out the scheme.

    Bring back the Breen Office.

  • Stuart W

    A.L. Hern makes some good points but unfortunately misses the mark. Great Britain ever a Socialist-leaning state. Note the folks “injured” by the crime just fat-cats; you know the “rich” here in America who haven't been “paying their fair share” as judged by the Obama Administration. If the film is upside-down from a moral standpoint that's merely business as usual in the secular states presently running rampant on the European continent. Really A.L.. you don't desire reanimation “The Breen Office.” Serious film addicts vote with their pocketbook. What you are really asking for is the return of David Lean. But that gives short-shrift to the many exceptional directors presently plying their trade and you know them. Films such as “The Angels Share” are ham-stringed to a great degree by their budgets and best not excluded as being “visually colorless” due lack of funds. Summing-up I found Leah Rozen's critique, on most levels, superior to the gaggle of “film reviews” available. Her major fault? announcing the heist and nature of the “plot turns” (kilts included) ; this unfortunate practice so common in the trade that movie “critics” most aptly identified as revealers rather than reviewers. This sad habit responsible my personal practice of reading reviews only AFTER I've witnessed the film!
    As in this particular case.

  • Gordon Franklin Terry Sr.

    I hadn't heard of Ken Loach until his sound-byte regarding Privatizing Margret Thatcher's funeral. ask him to give a talk at Cornell University's director's series so I can meet him in person.

    Ithaca, New York (home of Cornell University) is the Most Healing-Environment in The World; ask Lindsay Lohan to come to Ithaca as well.

    Ithaca has the tallest Waterfall in North America.