Thursday, 15 November 2012


Vendetta Films
Now Showing

We film reviewers see so many films, and so few of them ever truly surprise us. Endings, particularly in Hollywood films, are rarely in doubt. Ken Loach doesn't make Hollywood films, and with the Brit director's latest film, The Angels' Share, a kitchen sink drama cum heist comedy, that not knowing was part of the thrill: the third act of The Angels' Share was almost as nerve-racking for me as the third act of Argo.

It's also been a while since I've seen a film where I've been so heavily invested in the outcome of the hero's plight. Here that hero is Robbie (non-professional actor, Paul Brannigan). In his early 20's and built like a jockey, we meet Robbie as he's appearing before a magistrate (and not for the first time) on assault charges.

Managing to avoid jail time, Robbie is sentenced to perform community service which brings him into contact with Harry (John Henshaw), a man who believes in a fair go and second chances. And Robbie, on the verge of becoming a first time father with his partner, Leonie (Siobhan Reilly), wants so much to start anew and prove the doubters (like his disapproving father-in-law of sorts) wrong.

Robbie is at the bottom of the rung, and circumstances won't let him climb any higher to become the man, and father, he wants to be. And The Angels' Share starts out very much like a typical Ken Loach film (written with regular collaborator, Paul Laverty) about the working and under classes -- their less than glamorous day-to-day existence, unemployment, and run-ins with both sides of the law -- and then surprises -- and delights -- by becoming another film entirely.

Harry is a connoisseur of whisky, and his affection for the drop infects Robbie, who attends various tastings with his new mentor. And it turns out Robbie quite literally has a nose for whisky. He also has an eye for a good mark, and when it is announced that a cask of whisky from a once famous brewery thought to be long lost is about to go on auction, and believed to fetch at least 1 million pounds, Robbie's interest is piqued.

Enlisting the help of his fellow community service workers, Rhino (William Ruane), Mo (Jasmin Riggins) and Albert (Gary Maitland), Robbie sets in motion a plan to liberate a few litres of the sought after brew in the hopes of selling to a willing buyer, and funding his family's new start. Of course, as in all heist films, nothing goes according to plan with both amusing and nerve-racking results.

The angels' share is a brewer's term for describing the 2 per cent or so of the casked alcohol which is lost to evaporation. It's also an adequate description for Robbie and his cohorts. They are the small percentage of people who slip through the cracks, who disappear, who aren't really missed.

But Loach, a chronicler and champion of the working class and the underdog, knows better than that. Given the chance, anyone can contribute and even make a difference. It's not about handouts so much as a hand up, which is what Harry (John Henshaw) gives Robbie, and Robbie aims to repay (if less legitimately) in kind.

The Angels' Share has been compared to The Full Monty (1997) which I think is unfair. The latter Best Picture Oscar nominee, also about underdogs making good, was an insistently feel good film, hammering your funny bone until it hurt. I wasn't a fan.

Loach, on the other hand, prefers to merely tickle you, saving the hammering for the tougher elements in the film's first half. And while those disparate halves may not make for the perfect drop, The Angels' Share is a tipple you'll find near impossible to resist.

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