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the angels’ share
DIRECTOR: Ken Loach
CAST: Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, William Ruane, Gary Maitland, Jasmin Riggins, and Siobhan Reilly
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)
Four young and seemingly hopeless Scots find redemption in a bottle of whisky in this bittersweet comedy which seems rather rough and ready on the surface, but is actually very accomplished.
English director Ken Loach is known for his naturalist directing style and socialist beliefs, evident in his film treatment of social issues such as homelessness (‘Cathy Come Home’) or the exploitation of Third World labour (‘It’s a Free World’).
With ‘The Angel’s Share’ he tackles the hopelessness faced by inner city Glaswegian youths facing unemployment and a life of crime.
But, he does it with such a light touch that you have to check again to see if it really is a Loach film after all.
Seems just like good whisky, Loach is becoming more mellow in his old age, but he still has a bit of a kick.
It is a strangely playful film for all that it has a serious message – giving someone a chance to save themselves only works when that person takes the chance.
This comedy-drama is filled with many Scottish accents, so some of the dialogue is going to just fly right past you, but when you do catch it, there are plenty of funny bits.
It is also quite serious – the film starts with a montage of court scenes in which we see people being sentenced to community service for a variety of offences.
About to become a father, young Robbie (Brannigan) knows that this community service is his last chance to prove he isn’t a career criminal, just a misguided lad with a bad temper when he’s on drugs.
With the help of community service supervisor Harry (Henshaw,) Robbie really does try, but it’s when he is introduced to whisky tasting that he discovers a talent he never knew he had.
This is when the story slips into “let’s steal something” mode, but since we are talking low-level career criminals more prone to petty theft and plain stupidity, this is not a crime caper, but more of a last ditch attempt at a way out.
First time actor Brannigan makes for an engaging Robbie and the film succeeds on the unas-suming charm of its characters.
There’s Albert (Maitland), who is no Einstein by any means and provides the most heartfelt “nooooooo” scene I’ve seen in ages. You know, that moment when the audience just gives a collective gasp? Yep. That moment.
There’s also good-hearted Mo (Riggins), who can’t help filching things, and Harry, the social worker who tries to see the good in others.
While the planned theft is act-ually quite whimsical, the reality of the way the characters live – crowded, cramped inner city living can be just as nasty as living in a make-shift shack – grounds the story in a reality.
The film doesn’t just paint Robbie and his friends as hapless, but good natured criminals either. There’s also a poignant reminder of the other side of the criminal life when Robbie is forced to face up to someone he assaulted. This attempt at, if not redemption, at least a recognition of his guilt, is uncom-fortable and a good reminder that as cool as movies will make some criminal enterprise seem, victims of real crime will never think it’s cool.
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