Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is a young Glasgow thug who tries to turn his life around when he narrowly avoids a custodial sentence. Robbie – whose partner is due to give birth any day – is instead sentenced to community payback and forms a strong bond with Harry, his supervisor. After a visit to a distillery piques his interesting whiskey, and old rivalries flare up again, Robbie and his new friends devise a plan that will change their lives forever.
The Angels’ Share is something of a departure for director Ken Loach. His last film was Route Irish and dealt with security contractors in Iraq, but The Angel’s Share is more along the lines of Looking for Eric; a light and funny drama that tugs on the heartstrings.
The lead characters, and those that have influence on the direction of the story are played with depth and compassion. Robbie finds a reason to change his ways in his newborn son Luke, but every time he tries to step away from his former life, he is dragged back in. John Henshaw as Harry comes off as the typical gruff Northerner with a heart of gold. He may have to be strict in his job, but he can see when someone is trying to change, and does everything he can to encourage this.
Paul Brannigan may not be the strongest of actors yet, but he easily carries the movie with his sweet and sensitive portrayal of a young thug turned good. It is in the violent scenes that he struggles, but these are few enough and far between enough for Brannigan to succeed in his role. The rest of the young offenders, played my Jasmine Riggins, William Ruane and Gary Maitland – bring some tension and a little bit of good natured piss taking to the film. Maitland is particularly funny as the incredibly daft and blinkered Albert. John Henshaw is gruff but gentle as Harry, and it is his encouragement that allows Robbie to evolve past his violent ways.
The Angels’ Share feels as though it is going to be a ‘bad boy done good’ film for approximately two thirds of it’s running time, but when Robbie’s rivals reappear and fortune throws Robbie and his friends a chance in a lifetime – in the form of a rare cask of whiskey – the film quickly changes into a heist movie… Albeit on an incredibly small scale.
Much of the humour comes from the interactions between these reformed criminals who we are introduced to during an opening montage where their sentences are handed down to them. Albert is almost infuriatingly ignorant of… well, everything, but he does manage to have flashes of genius throughout the film. Mo has a nasty habit of stealing anything she can get her hands on, even if she does not want it, and Rhino rounds out the gang as the foil to Albert’s well meaning daftness. The film constantly reminds us that these are criminals with hearts of gold, an idea that is definitely not new on the screen, but Loach handles their interaction with a light and gentle touch, and it is this that allows the film to be as funny as it is. By the time the heist actually happens, the audience is rooting for this rag tag band of criminals to succeed.
Writer Paul Laverty has collaborated with Loach many times in the past, and it is clear that the two worked together closely on The Angels’ Share. The film is directed with a light touch, which works for the story, but ends up giving the impression that the film could have been directed by anyone.
In all, The Angel’s Share may not be the film we would expect from the director of The Wind that Shakes the Barley, but it is light, silly, heart warming and incredibly funny. The film was subtitled in Cannes – something that many of us found amusing – and gales of laughter echoed around the press screening. As to whether this film is a real contender for the Palme D’Or remains to be seen.