It takes great skill to make a movie that balances potentially incongruous tones of brutality, comedy and hope. With the marvelous new movie The Angels’ Share, director Ken Loach demonstrates that he is gifted enough to do that.
Robbie (Paul Brannigan in a charismatic star-making performance) is a ne’er-do-well striving to turn his life around. He’s got a baby due any day and is just starting community service after a bloody fight that nearly blinded a foe (and in Robbie’s Edinburgh, Scotland neighborhood, foes and friends morph back and forth quite fluidly). He’s working off his sentence under an avuncular supervisor named Harry (John Henshaw), who takes Robbie under his wing and teaches him the finer points of a glass of Scotch.
Despite his intentions, Robbie is stymied by factors over which he’s powerless, such as those neighborhood turf wars, his girlfriend’s prickly family (who offer him a nice chunk of change to leave Edinburgh completely), and an economy that slaps him back two steps for every forward one. Yet he’s drawn to the Scotch, less for its taste – he can take it or leave it – than its market value, especially a certain cask that he learns ins coming up for auction and could reap up to seven figures.
In short order, Robbie and his community service cronies (two goofball guys and a spunky young lady) are on the road to the highlands where the liquid gold awaits the gavel. Though the group is barely literate, they have the smarts to concoct a scheme to secretly siphon off enough bottles of the stuff to keep them comfortable for some time to come. They’re like a lovable gang of buffoons you hope succeed at both the heist and their lives.
A scan through Loach’s filmography reveals a resume of wonderful yet dark and tough movies about people living perilously below their means. In films as varied as Riff-Raff, Sweet Sixteen and Ladybird Ladybird, the characters make terrible choices amid sometimes dangerous domestic or community situations. Some have called Loach's style of filmmaking “miserablism” while others would vehemently reject that because his films are so well-told and engrossing. The masterful storytelling in The Angels' Share doesn't surprise but its warmth and blithe spirits do.
The Angels' Share | 1:41 | Dir. Ken Loach | Click here for theater show times.