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The Angels’ Share

Posted by martinteller on April 29, 2013

Robbie (Paul Brannigan) has just caught a break.  Rather than imprison him on an assault charge, a judge has ordered 300 hours of community service, based on the fact that he’s been relatively straight lately, and has a baby on the way with his girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly).  But Robbie’s got other problems.  His scars make him easily identifiable as a thug, even if weren’t for his police record, and so his job prospects are bleak.  Leonie’s protective family — including three burly uncles — don’t want him anywhere near her or the baby.  And he’s inherited a family rivalry that has the vicious Clancy (Scott Kyle) gunning for him.  While doing his community service, he befriends the fatherly supervisor Harry (John Henshaw).  Harry teaches him about fine whisky, which Robbie seems to have a natural talent for appreciating.  And somehow whisky might help get him and his community service mates — the easy-going Rhino (William Ruane), the kleptomaniac Mo (Jasmin Riggins) and the daft Albert (Gary Maitland) — on the path to a better life.

My primary concern going into this film was not being able to understand the dialogue.  Being familiar with Ken Loach movies like Kes and Riff-Raff, I expected a lot of incomprehensible dialects.  Fortunately, the film was subtitled for simple Americans like myself.  This not only eased the comprehension, but also ensured that you wouldn’t miss a line while the audience was laughing.  And there are a lot of good laughs in the film.  Many of them come from the ignorance of Maitland’s character, but pretty much everyone gets some funny bits (I could’ve done without a fart gag, but I’ve seen them done a lot worse).  The movie manages a good balancing act of light comedy and the kind of working-class drama one expects from Loach.

That is, it does for a while.  There’s a schizophrenic rift in the film.  For the first half, it seems to be building a redemptive arc for Robbie, who has to learn how to sublimate his aggression and be a responsible father.  Then the second half becomes a lively heist caper.  Not a bad heist caper (though a bit implausible and not especially original) but it’s confusing.  Two previously significant figures in shaping Robbie’s life and future simply step out of the picture.  Leonie just disappears for a while, and Clancy vanishes completely.  He’s built up as this looming threat, and there’s no payoff.  The ethical grounding that Leonie provides is no longer a factor.  And the message of the film becomes foggy as well.  Knowing Loach’s affinity for the underprivileged, I suppose “Robin Hood” style thievery might be seen as justified, but how does this fit in with Robbie’s character development?  Has he learned that the only way to get himself out of the gutter is to take his own “angels’ share”?  I don’t know.  It’s a bit baffling, and I’d like to be able to justify it as moral complexity but it mostly just feels sloppy.

Still, it’s a very pleasant and entertaining movie with endearing performances by Henshaw and the young, mostly amateur core cast (it’s too bad Roger Allam from “The Thick Of It” wasn’t put to greater comedic use, though).  There’s some sparkling wit in Paul Laverty’s screenplay.  But it’s certainly not top-tier Loach.  Had the film gone down the path it started on, it could have been.  Rating: Good (71)


2 Responses to “The Angels’ Share”

  1. JC said

    I’m planning on seeing this thursday through my local film festival – a double feature with ‘In The House’ – should be a good time! Nowhere else can you get a bag of popcorn and a Heineken for under $10 CAD. Beautiful.

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