18 December 2012


Next up, in my catch-up with 2012's unseen movies, is The Angels' Share, the latest film from director Ken Loach. Although Loach's films are usually worth seeing, they don't lose anything if you miss them in the cinema, so the benefits of not having reviewed this at the time is that I didn't have to travel miles out of my way to see it, and I've already heard all of the whisky puns, so I know to avoid them. Well, I'll try, anyway.

A group of Glaswegian young offenders befriend their kindly foreman while undertaking community service, and are introduced to an unexpected interest in whisky, and its production. One of them, Robbie, is particularly keen to reform, as his girlfriend has just had a baby boy, but sees no way out of the grudge match that keeps getting him in trouble. However, when a priceless cask of whisky is discovered, he and three of his fellow offenders launch a hare-brained scheme to liberate the rare single malt.

Loach and his regular screenwriter Paul Laverty set a tone with the very first scene- dimwitted alcoholic Albert, brilliantly played by Gary Maitland, staggers around on a train platform and has an argument with the increasingly furious tannoy operator. The outcome lands Albert in court, where we also meet our other characters, and things get a little more serious until the end of the first act, at least. Paul Brannigan's Robbie, as the protagonist, gets into the worst trouble- aside from being warned off by his girlfriend's mobster father and uncles, he's brought into a harrowing confrontation with a victim he assaulted, and generally has no hope of getting a job and turning his life around.

But by starting out with that very funny scene, the filmmakers put a pin in that comedic tone and come back to it later. The first act does get progressively more enjoyable, with the introduction of John Henshaw as Harry, who at least gives Robbie the benefit of the doubt, with three more sort of tagging along for the ride. They're oddly loveable characters, even if it takes a big heart like Harry's to give them a second chance, and you root for their unlikely quest to find redemption. By, er... robbing a distillery for a whisky that's worth a million pounds.

The title of the film comes from distillery terminology, referring to the two percent of all their product that evaporates each year. Without over-egging any social or political angle, there's no need for the film to put the relative harmlessness of this plot into perspective. It's not exactly a victimless crime, but when the only real victims would appear to be people like a typically unctuous Roger Allam, neither the characters nor the audience should trouble themselves too much over the morality. Still, considering the seriousness of Robbie's inescapable situation, as portrayed in that first act, there's a lack of resolution to that thread in the more jovial second and third acts.

The Angels' Share has more than its share of belly laughs and cockle-warming moments, pitching itself as less of a bad-lads crime caper and more of a redemptive tale for an unlikely crew of whisky connoiseurs. Paul Brannigan and John Henshaw are the most valuable players, but Gary Maitland's comic relief idiothole makes the biggest impression. The story is sound, the dialogue is memorable (not to mention bruisingly sweary) and it all comes together in a blend that goes down smooth. Sorry, couldn't resist.

The Angels' Share is now available on DVD and Blu-ray
If you've seen
The Angels' Share, why not share your comments below?
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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