The Angel's Share - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
KEN Loach’s latest is a flawed comedy drama that nevertheless arrives in UK cinemas off the back of a rapturous Cannes debut and even a Jury prize.
On the one hand, it’s a serious, even thought-provoking look at violence and its effect both on the victims and those who perpetrate it, while on the other it’s a pithy, even oddball crime caper. Sadly, the one rather negates the other.
As the film begins, viewers are introduced to its main protagonists via the offences they’re all in court to receive punishment for. There’s Gary Maitland’s amiable fool Albert, whose up for being drunk and disorderly on a platform, and William Ruane’s Rhino, forced to atone for de-facing public monuments, and Jasmin Riggins’ Mo, up for yet another count of theft.
Primary among them, however, is Paul Brannigan’s violent thug, Robbie, who we’re told is about to become a new dad with a girlfriend who has helped to turn his life around.
All of the group are subsequently sentenced to community service and put in the care of John Henshaw’s whisky loving Harry. But it’s Robbie who remains the focus of the film’s attention as he attempts to avoid more violent confrontations with a rival gang that has it in for him and get on the good side of his girlfriend’s volatile dad.
In doing so, he comes to view Harry as something of a father figure and it’s their friendship and subsequent bonding over whisky distillery visiting that paves the way for the film’s second act: Robbie’s decision, with his fellow community workers, to steal some rare whisky from auction and sell it to create enough money to make a new life for himself and his new family.
As heart-warming and comedic as some of this undoubtedly is, Loach’s film – based on yet another script from long-time collaborator Paul Laverty – struggles to make the transition from gritty social drama to irreverent comedy.
This is largely because Robbie is a difficult character to forgive, especially once Loach has him sit before one of his victims and hear the damage he has inflicted for no good reason other than being high.
Loach’s point, presumably, is to show the ambiguity of the situation while highlighting how society often turns it’s back on such people (he believes we’re staring at another wasted generation), thereby creating a bigger problem and a culture where atonement and rehabilitation are virtually impossible.
And while these points have merit in a film that stays on track and properly examines these issues in the same way that the director’s own Sweet Sixteen did, here the decision to thrust this main character into a second act caper seems to undermine any valuable debate the veteran director had intended to set up.
Hence, the second act invites us to root for Robbie as he tries to turn things around by turning, once again to crime, albeit one that has no real victims other than to swindle some millionaire whisky connoisseurs who are willing to pay over the odds for a rare casket!
Again, Loach could argue that countless Hollywood caper films ask audiences to root for the criminal. But the about turn in this film’s tone is too stark and too grounded in reality.
It’s a shame as there are nice performances, particularly from first-time actor Brannigan (who brings an authenticity to proceedings born from personal experience) and Henshaw as the kindly Harry, as well as just about everybody involved. And the second half of the film is well handled and fun.
Had Loach stuck with that tone throughout his film could be described as the uplifting heart-warmer some have labelled it. As things stand, it’s enjoyable at times, thought-provoking at others but it does leave a slightly unsavoury after-taste.
Running time: 101mins
UK Release Date: June 1, 2012