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Review - The Angels Share

01 Jun 2012
Ken Loach mixes drama and comedy, to strange effect
In working class Glasgow a young man is given one last chance to clean up his act when he receives community service rather than a jail term for a violent crime. Determined to change his life ahead of the birth of his first child, he finds a talent for whiskey tasting that takes him on an adventure to the Scottish Highlands and the opportunity of a lifetime.
The Angels’ Share is the latest film from acclaimed director Ken Loach, who has been churning out social realist pieces for more than 40 years, including titles like Kes and Palme D’Or winner The Wind that Shakes the Barley. True to form, the film uses mostly non actors and a raw shooting style for a tale that focuses on working class society but it’s also lighter and more entertaining than you might expect.The Angels’ Share is decidedly a film of two halves. The first sees young Robbie (Paul Brannigan in his first screen role) trying to turn over a new leaf as his girlfriends family use violence and other tactics to dissuade him from the relationship. It also deals with Robbie’s less than savoury past and a long running family feud which he’s convinced will be the death of him. It’s frequently strong stuff, never more so than when Robbie has to face up to one of his prior victims and proves unable to even make eye contact with the shattered youth. But the second half of the film is markedly different, focussing on field trips courtesy of friendly community service bloke Harry (John Henshaw) which introduce us to the rarefied world of whiskey. Here, you’ll partake in an actual tour of a distillery, along with a charmingly real tour guide lassy, and chance upon Roger Allam’s Thaddeus, who offers an unlikely opportunity. This lighter section meanders along before whisking our quartet of comically appointed heroes quite suddenly into a heist caper, plotting to pilfer some pricey whiskey at a special sale in the Highlands. It’s certainly entertaining enough but the two halves don’t make good bedfellows. It’s clear from the off that Robbie is a thug and while he obviously wants to have a life with his girl and their new child it’s never quite so obvious that he’s sorry for his actions. And these early scenes are all but forgotten as the film heads into broad comedic territory, complete with a spastic, speccy sidekick, jokes about genitalia and an overly convenient ending.Brannigan makes a strong debut, with Loach picking him out of the crowd for his similarities to the character. He’s got decent presence and could well forge something of a career on screen, he’s already working with Scarlett Johansson on Jonathan Glazer’s creature feature Under the Skin. The performances in general are calm and naturalistic, fuelled by an on the fly, conversational style that ties in with the Robbie Ryan’s unfussy cinematography. The thick Glaswegian accents might prove a problem though in foreign climes – expect subtitles in the States.The Angels’ Share’s more comedic bent might make a useful entry point for those unfamiliar with Loach’s previous work but is unlikely to satisfy long time fans, while the mix of dark and light material could confound those looking for a breezy comedy.
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