been a comedy with this many ass kickings since the Coen brothers’ Miller’s
Crossing? The only thing that comes to mind is Michael Bay’s recent Pain
& Gain, which has not only ass kickings, but dismemberments,
bludgeoning and deaths.
The Angels’ Share isn’t as grim as either of those two very different
movies, but because it’s directed by Ken Loach, the sort of grandfather of
British social realism in film, it has its darker moments. Robbie (Paul
Brannigan) is beaten to a pulp at least twice, and at one point holds a knife
to another character’s eye and threatens to gouge it.
prelude to the comedy—seriously. The Angels’ Share is a caper film about
second, third and fourth chances. And even if those chances all have to do with
crime, they’re crimes with an eye toward pulling a big enough score that one
never has to commit another crime or need more chances.
Such is the
set-up for many a caper comedy. Loach and his frequent collaborator,
screenwriter Paul Laverty, manage to subvert expectations while delivering
hearty laughs and even adding a little pathos.
young Glaswegian with a history of getting into fights and landing guys in the
hospital. At a court hearing, he tells the judge he’ll go straight this time if
given the shot—his girlfriend, Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) is pregnant with their
son—and he wants to be a positive force in his kid’s life.
Robbie has a jacket an inch thick, the judge agrees to let Robbie off with 300
hours of community payback, the UK’s version of community service. It’s there,
while working in a dilapidated building, that Robbie meets Harry (John
Henshaw), a tough but warm supervisor, who encourages Robbie to stay straight.
introduces Robbie to fine whiskey, and as it happens, Robbie has a nose for it.
He even impresses a few serious whiskey authorities, including Rory McAllistair
(played by real life authority Charles Maclean).
comes into the story when Leonie’s father offers Robbie a deal to take some
money, leave Glasgow and go to London. Robbie—who’s constantly being chased
down by a local tough named Dougie (James Casey), whose father has a problem
with Robbie’s father—refuses the deal, intent on raising his son.
It just so
happens that a cask of Malt Mill, a long-thought-to-be-lost Scotch whiskey, has
been discovered and is set for auction. Robbie and his friends, Mo (Jasmin
Riggins), Rhino (William Ruane), and Albert (Gary Maitland), dressed as
Highlanders and with a fake whiskey club name, conspire to steal from the cask
and sell the Malt Mill for tens of thousands of pounds to the highest bidder.
The crime of
stealing the whiskey is simultaneously one of the funniest and most tense
on-screen thefts in the past few years; Robbie attempts to siphon the liquor
into empty Irn-Bru bottles as his co-conspirators wait outside. Needless to say,
he’s interrupted; needless to say, he’s nearly caught more than once.
One of the
most appealing things about The Angels’ Share (the 2 percent of whiskey
that evaporates from a cask each year) is its ability to change tone so often
and so successfully. Brannigan, a non-actor who’s been homeless, brings
intensity and sincerity to the role, and it helps him and the rest of the cast
get through some of its sillier moments—any scene where all the thieves are
posing as Highlanders, for example. Another bonus is the heavy brogue that each
actor carries, along with a million utterances of the word “cunt” as if it were
just another word.
Robbie and his pals go straight is another story for another time, but The
Angels’ Share has everything—street fights, comedy and drama—and there’s
even a ride off into the dull gray mist in place of a sunset. It’s still
Glasgow, after all.
THE ANGELS’ SHARE
Directed by Ken Loach
With Paul Brannigan, Jasmin Riggins and William Ruane
Santa Fe Reporter