Angels’ Share, The (2012): Ken Loach in Lighter Mood

Cannes Film Festival (In Competition)– Ken Loach’s new social-realist fable, The Angels’ Share, finds the British auteur in a lighter mood than the usual.

This amiable comedy (with some dark and serious overtones, to be sure) concerns the experiences of some young Scottish lads when they discover the joys of whisky–and beyond.

This is Loach’s 11th appearance in the Cannes Film Fest, with 10 films in Competition (the most that any director has had), and one, ”The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” winning the top prize, the Palme d’Or, at his 8th Cannes appearance.

IFC/Sundance Selects has picked “The Angels’ Share” for American release, but I doubt if the picture will recruit many new devotees to this latest work of Loach, who has always been a niche director for specialized audiences stateside.

In tone and mood—and underlying sentimentality—“The Angels’ Share” is more in congruence with Loach’s “looking for Eric” than with his last several Cannes entries. That said, though the film is likable, warm, and accessible, overall, it’s a minor work in the director’s oeuvre.

First comes first: The feature‘s title refers to a small percentage of whisky that is “wasted” by naturally evaporating when transported in casks from one destination to another. (See below).

The product of a long and fruitful collaboration with writer Paul Laverty, “The Angels’ Share” is set in Laverty’s native Scotland, which is the locale for some of their strongest features together, including “Sweet Sixteen” and “My Name Is Joe” (one of my favorite Loach pictures).

In the first scene, we get to meet the protagonists, a bunch of hoodlums charged with minor criminal allegations (shoplifting) at the Glasgow Sheriff’s Court.

Robbie (played by the charming amateur Paul Brannigan) manages to escape a prison sentence by claiming that he wants to reform and lead a straight, normal life. As a result, he is given community service, supervised by the rather benevolent Harry (John Henshaw). Harry takes special interest in Robbie, especially after learning that the latter is about to become a father with his girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) and is not particularly well treated by her family.

It’s in service that Robbie meets his comrades and soon to be partners in crime: Albert (Gary Maitland), Rhino (William Ruane) and Mo (Jasmin Riggins). Turning point occurs when Harry takes his group of youngsters for a visit of a distillery, which opens Robbie’s eyes to the joys of whisky, in all its forms and varieties. Could whisky become his new metier?

The tale gets more conventional and predictable, but also mor enjoyable, when the quartet decides on a heist. The plan is to grab some malt whisky on its way to an auction at another distillery. To execute their heist and look more credible they decide to wear kilts, which bring some requisite smiles and chuckles.

The narrative suffers from some credibility issues, prime among which is the suggestion that the birth of Robbie’s son is responsible for his complete transformation as a man.

But just when you thought you’re watching a light-hearted heist comedy, Loach and Laverty hit you with their social message, the impact of poverty and unemployment in all their ugliness on working class youths whose prospects are so limited to the point of having no future to speak of.

The ravages of poverty, in the short and the long run, has been a recurrent theme of Loach’s work over the past four decades. Indeed, it’s hard to think of another filmmaker (not even Mike Leigh, Loach’s peer), who has devoted his entire work to exploring the socio-economic and emotional devastations of the lower classes in the U.K.

On this picture, Loach works with a new cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, rather than his usual collaborator, Barry Ackroyd. But technically, “Angels’ Share” looks and feels like a typical work of Loach, who has never been a stylist or a particularly strong craftsman, which is one reason why he is not held in high regard by cinephiles.

Cast:

Paul Brannigan, Siobhan Reilly, John Henshaw, Gary Maitland, William Ruane, Jasmin Riggins, Scott Dymond, Scott Kyle, Neil Leiper, James Casey, Caz Dunlop, Gilbert Martin, Roger Allam, Charles MacLean, David Goodall.

Credits

Produced by Rebecca O’Brien.

Executive producers, Pascal Caucheteux, Vincent Maraval.
Directed by Ken Loach.
Screenplay: Paul Laverty.