The Angels’ Share: A Comic Scottish Heist Film From Ken Loach

The Angels’ Share

Opens Fri., May 3 at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Not rated. 101 minutes.

Ken Loach, that old British leftie director, keeps up his commitment to the poor and disenfranchised with The Angels’ Share, his latest collaboration with equally socially conscious screenwriter Paul Laverty. It’s set in the familiar Loach environs of troubled youth, the unemployed, and the eternal underclass—here specifically the slums of Glasgow. But after the political dramas Route Irish and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Loach instead builds an underdog, offbeat comedy on the scruffy camaraderie of some two-time losers. He directs it with warmth and affection.

Robbie (Paul Brannigan) has his past carved into his face like a road map. He’s got a prison record, a history of violence, and a short temper. But now he’s also a young father desperate for a fresh start, even while admitting he’s “stuck in the same old shite”—at least until his community-service supervisor (John Henshaw) introduces him to the venerable Scottish tradition of distilling whisky. Then Robbie discovers he has a nose and a knack for fine spirits.

Loach hits the social commentary hard and fast, forcing Robbie to confront his old thug life, a vengeful culture that refuses to let him go. That soon gives way to a good-natured buddy movie. The “angels’ share” of the title is the distiller’s name for the 2 percent of whisky that evaporates in the casks during the aging process. But you could also call it the film’s tacit approval of a particularly unconventional bit of larceny, as Robbie and his urban cohort don kilts and head to the Highlands to steal a rare, precious barrel of Malt Mill. They’re no angels, but Loach likes these kids, and he makes the whole low-tech caper their due, given the hopeless prospects they face back home.

Loach and Laverty aren’t concerned with the irony of Robbie and company resorting to crime to finance a fresh start. Loach is famed for his uncompromising politics, but here we see his whimsical side, his sympathy for his likable young performers, all first-time actors cast from the harsh streets of Scotland.

Those street accents are heavy, at times impenetrable, but don’t worry. The Angels’ Share arrives stateside with English subtitles, which lets you enjoy the musicality of the banter without missing the meaning.

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