Starring: Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, Gary Maitland
You may like this if you liked: Kes (Ken Loach, 1969), This is England (Shane Meadows, 2006), Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996)
Robbie (Brannigan) is a young man who has always been in trouble with the law and narrowly avoids a jail sentence after committing a horrific unprovoked attack will under the influence of heavy drugs. After becoming a father he vows that his son will never have to have the kind of life he has. The terms of his sentence are that he has to do community service, and while doing that he makes friends with Rhino, Albert and Mo. The kind hearted officer in charge, Harry takes them to a whiskey distillery where they discover that Robbie has a fantastic nose when it comes to sniffing whiskey and knowing exactly what brand it is and its value. Upon hearing that an extremely rare barrel of whiskey worth over £1million is to be auctioned they hatch a plan, using Robbie’s excellent nose, to change all their lives forever.
Ken Loach is in my opinion, along with Mike Leigh, one of Britain’s best directors at making gritty social realist dramas that truly capture real life without bordering into excessive melodrama or cheesy clichés. When I saw The Angels’ Share released there was all these quotes on it as a ‘laugh out loud comedy’, and I thought to myself; Ken loach? Laugh out loud comedy? Is he going soft in his old age?
Thankfully he is not, the whole laugh out loud comedy quotes and the style of the front cover of the DVD appear to be more a marketing ploy, which annoys me but I understand why it is done. This will get more people to see it and after all films need to make as much money as possible, however some people may find this misleading. There are some great comedic moments in the second half of the film; however the first half of the film is vintage Ken Loach.
After all, our protagonist committed a nasty crime, and Loach does not shy away from this. At the start there are some uncomfortable and uncompromising scenes which show the darker side of real life which many of us prefer to not think about, and some scenes are extremely unlikely to make it into any Glasgow tourism campaign. Once the narrative enters its second half what develops is a very uplifting and extremely watchable (perhaps a little fantastical) story. However, in a less experienced director this could easily fall into the trap of cliché and predictable cheesiness, thankfully Loach is too old and wise to let this happen.
The main four characters are all played by unknowns and are all excellent and extremely likeable, which certainly plays a part as to why The Angels’ Share is so watchable. The protagonist Robbie is a potentially unlikeable character, but Paul Brannigan makes him likeable despite his obvious flaws, through his performance we despise his situation but not his character. Gary Maitland and William Ruane provide the excellent comic relief and John Henshaw provides genuine heart as the probation officer in charge. Despite the four main characters obvious flaws I did find myself routing for them, and this along with the films brutally honest depictions of their situations makes the film very engaging and involving. There is definitely a message here that there is good in everyone but they just need to be given the opportunity to prove it, but as I have already stated this is achieved by avoiding the usual clichés.
In summary, The Angels’ Share is an extremely honest, heartfelt and genuinely entertaining watch that manages to avoid the usual clichés and predictability if in the hands of lesser directors. Thoroughly recommended.