on 5 June 2012
This highly enjoyable film attempts something quite difficult in combining gritty drama about mindless urban violence with feel-good, rural comedy. It succeeds in this, with the comedy coming to the fore in the second half of the film.
The Angel's Share tells the story of Robbie, a vicious Glaswegian thug, given one last chance by the system in the hope that his fathering of a child by a very sensible girlfriend will enable him to turn his life around. The hand of mercy is extended further by Harry (John Henshaw), who supervises Robbie's Community Pay-Back, offers him shelter, and introduces him to the rarefied world of single-malt whisky. Despite this, Robbie appears to be heading back into his world of hopelessness and violence, until a unique and extremely valuable barrel of single-malt, and his own sharp mind, present the opportunity for final escape.
At this point the film faces a conundrum. We are asked to sympathise with the well-intentioned attempts of a wayward but intelligent youth to escape from a life of crime, but he tries to do this through a heist. That the film succeeds in winning our sympathies was made very clear by the collective and audible gasp of anguish from all the people in the cinema at the point when Robbie and his friends suffer a massive set-back in their plans.
There is a lot to love about this film. Great characters and acting; some very poignant scenes (brace yourself for a harrowing episode in which Robbie meets one of his previous victims as part of a reconciliation scheme); some laugh-out-loud moments; a well-paced and clever plot; and some beautiful shots of Scotland's fabulous countryside. It doesn't quite make five star perfection - there are times when credibility is stretched, and the combination of the two styles undermines its coherence - but doesn't miss by much, and is well worth seeing, especially if you enjoy off-beat British comedies or just fancy a break from Hollywood blockbusters.
Finally, special mention for two of the secondary female characters. The guide at the whisky distillery is a delight - with swinging hips and the straining buttons on her blouse she creates a sexual presence which many other films would have to display yards of flesh to achieve. And Siobahn Reilly, as Robbie's girlfriend Leonie, has expressions and a manner of speech strongly redolent of the delectable Clare Grogan in that most wonderful of Scottish comedies - indeed that most wonderful of films - Gregory's Girl. I would have no problem putting this new Ken Loach film in that company.
This film, which was a surprise winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, begins as a hard-edged and extremely realistic account of the fortunes of three young men and a girl, all offenders, who appear in court for a variety of minor crimes. One, however, has been in prison for a serious and brutal assault, and he is the central character in the film. Memorably played by Paul Brannigan, whose own life apparently has parallels with that of the character, he just escapes prison again, partly because he now has a stable relationship with a good woman, Leonie, and is about become a father ; he is ready to put his old life behind him if he can. But he has enemies, and they are out to get him, and the offer from Leonie's father of £5000 if he will leave and never reappear in Glasgow is one that, at one point, he gloomily sees as the only option. All four come under the wing of a kindly Community Service Supervision Officer, Harry, excellently played by John Henshaw, with whom they paint derelict halls and clean gravestones. But then, on his day off, he takes them to a distillery, where Robbie finds he has a 'nose' - a natural talent for judging and identifying fine whiskies. The plot moves on, with a second visit to what is probably the Malt Whisky Society and the news that a cask of 'malt mill', an exceedingly rare, distinguished and expensive whisky, is to be auctioned up north. The four young people form a plan and, donning kilts, make their way north, where various things happen ; and the end of the film is hopeful and distinctly 'feel-good'.
This film moves, as does Robbie, from the hard reality of a brutal and bleak, violent, drug-ridden council-estate life to escape and real hope for him, his partner and their child, Luke. The earlier part of it includes stark scenes - he is attacked and badly beaten in a hospital, he is chased through the streets by his traditional enemies who would do him real damage but for the intervention of his partner's father, and in a very effective scene he has a meeting with the young man whom he himself assaulted in the incident which led to his imprisonment, and with his parents and girl friend (or possibly sister) ; the mother goes for him and all he can do is weep - he is now a father himself and can begin to understand how she feels. Once the four leave Glasgow and make their way north, however, the 'feel' of the film changes with the scenery, and it becomes much less hard-edged. This part of the film is very enjoyable - funny in places, and with a compelling plot - but there has to be some suspension of disbelief ; several times I found myself thinking, 'Could that really happen?'. In this film, it does, and you are glad for the lad, his girl and his friends. So I don't think it can be classed as a great film, but it is involving, engagingly unusual, and extremely well made and acted. It is certainly 'different' and well worth seeing.
on 31 October 2012
Is Ken Loach Britain's very own Woody Allen? On the surface, the answer would most likely be no. Stylistically very different. Closer inspection, however, show greater parallels than one might initially imagine. Both are extremely prolific, well within their twilight years, both have to venture into Europe to secure their funding and both are completely and utterly adored by the French.
For Loach, forever on the periphery of popular culture (aside from Kes (1969), of course), things have never really been otherwise. In many ways, his films have provided a critical and unflinching picture of Britain throughout the last 40 years. Standing on the sidelines shining a light on the underdog and highlighting the gaps within the British class system, he has done so not with a crass voyeurism in the manner of a sneering class tourist, but with a sincere brushstroke of honesty. For all the destitution and violence, he has detailed the strong bonds that often exist within the deprived communities.
The Angel's Share marks the 12th film that he has directed with the accompaniment of writer, Peter Laverty; a fruitful partnership that started back with Carla's Song (1996). Sharing more in common with the lighthearted and breezy (for Loach) Looking for Eric (2009) than the subsequent Route Irish (2010), there is room for plenty of laughs with this particular band of merry brothers (and sister).
Opening with the sentencing of a number of delinquents to community service, the focus falls on young Robbie (Paul Brannigan), a ne'er do well who represents the latest in a long line of rogues born from his family's gene pool. With history seemingly set to repeat itself, and feuds with neighbouring families falling from one generation to the next, Robbie needs to break the cycle. If not for him, then for the child that is on its way. In a bitter twist, his pregnant girlfriend is the daughter of a rival family who do not look upon his presence kindly.
Under the tutelage of community service officer, Harry (a reliably solid John Henshaw), Robbie is not only able to fulfill his civic obligation, but he is also able to strike upon a previously unforeseen nasal talent, which offers a potential 'out' through the whiskey trade. To say anything else would be a spoiler. Suffice to say, somewhere along the line a plan is hatched.
Where the first half of this film offers a sombre, grimy look at Glasgow and the push and pull of family ties and tensions, the second half takes a far lighter tone. The first half is the more effective and compelling. In one scene, a meeting is set up where Robbie is confronted with the victim of his crime. Interspersed with flashbacks to the horrific violence that formed the basis of Robbie's conviction in time past, the effect is shocking. Loach has stated that he didn't want the flashbacks to be put in slow motion. He felt that this would diminish the brutality. He wanted to showcase the violence in real time. He wanted it to be visceral. He has succeeded. In fact, at first, the film struggles to recover from the power of this scene. The pace of the script counters this by flushing the narrative forward. It excels in doing so. There is a contagious bonhomie with all of the main characters, and the script has enough brio and warmth to engage the viewer. A minor quibble would be that the well performed Albert (Gary Maitland) suspends belief a little too far as a personality type, cast as he is in the idiot savant role. Still, there is certainly enough here for both emotional investment and a good few chuckles along the way.
The only section that could be accused of dragging is the main set-piece involving the heist. This is perhaps an unfair criticism, however, as the film has to unavoidably subscribe to genre conventions at this point. The screenplay does its job well in enabling the film to zip by without too much damage being done.
As a non-professional actor plucked from obscurity, Paul Brannigan's performance is outstanding, and he certainly stands to gain the most from this film's success. He is a natural, bringing both a strength and a vulnerability to Robbie.
In some quarters, this film has been referred to as being a Scottish Full Monty. This does not necessarily do either film any real service. It is true that both are heartwarming and feature the working class. This is not enough to lump them in as the equivalent of each other though.
As an intoxicating pick-me-up, the Angel's Share succeeds. Ken Loach has stepped further out into the light with this film, creating what is surely his most family friendly film (minus the swearing and violence of course, but you were never going to get a Mrs Doubtfire from him, were you?). Is this film perfect? No. However, just like the characters in the Angel's Share deserve a fair chance, so does this picture.
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Ken Loach is renound for casting both actors who can portray realism, and new talent with backgrounds relating to what we're seeing on screen. Angel's Share is a prime example with familiar face John Henshaw playing a key role alongside new-comer Paul Brannigan. Brannigan's troubled past means that a he is able to bring elements of his personal experiences into the film and I suspect a lot of what we see mirrors events similar to those he has been party to. His newly found success as an actor parallels the theme of giving a second chance to those who have been dismissed by society.
Angel's Share contains the level of social commentary you expect from a Ken Loach film and focuses primarily on the underbelly of Scottish youth where troubled teens and twenty-somethings are at risk of sinking into a cycle of crime and abuse. The main character Robbie is himself completely unlikable to start with - he's a violent young man and one of his victims was lucky to only lose the sight in one eye and his self-confidence rather than his life. By revealing the potential of this young hooligan to break free from his past and be a positive influence on his new son's life we get behind him and start to see him as a victim too rather than a mindless protagonist. There is more pathos in the first 15 minutes of this film than you find in the entire duration of a Hollywood 'bromance'. The edgy realism of Angel's Share is regularly cut through by some great humour - the opening scene is probably the funniest of any Loach film, thankfully on this Blu-Ray there is no ridiculous editing; the DVD suffers from over-zealous censorship and several naughty words have been removed, consequently it dilutes the strength of the characters, but the Blu-Ray is 'complete' and the difference is noticeable.
The humour mainly comes from the banter between characters, I don't know how much was ad-libbed, but it never sounds scripted and Angel's Share has that trademark fly-on-the-wall-esque look you expect from such a film with all interactions seem realistic, and that realism draws you into the film. One of the plot devices central to giving Robbie and his crew a chance to cut themselves a break seems strangely out of kilter with the rest of the film, and it seems odd that it relies on an illegal act - but as you watch it, it seems almost victimless and highlights the obscene differences between rich and poor, plus you realise that the impact on what is effectively a robbery will ultimately be positive. The film almost seems to change direction at this point and becomes less plausible, but the characters remain true to themselves and the film delivers an ending which is satisfying in several ways - through there is a very unexpected moment involving a toast!
The Blu-Ray transfer is as good as it gets from a film designed to look more like real life than a glossy flick. You won't be blown away by the visuals but you aren't meant to be. Bonuses include a twenty minute 'making of' documentary and some deleted scenes, the documentary is okay but I'd have liked to have seen more about the cast and how they approached the film - especially from Paul Brannigan.
In a nutshell: Every major turn of this film hinges on being given a second chance, either by 'the system' or by a friendly figure who can recognise the person beneath the crime figures and scars. A dark drama with some excellent comedy moments turns into a bit of a jolly crime caper, but it never becomes ridiculous and is always grounded in reality. Loach takes Glaswegians, drugs, whiskey and the Proclaimers and manages to not make it feel stereotyped. The man clearly isn't capable of making a bad film and this is probably more accessible than a lot of his others by being set in surroundings more familiar.
on 31 October 2012
Fortunately we didn't quite need subtitles for this movie, but we can understand that some viewers might! My wife and I enjoyed the story and were happily reminded of our many visits to Scottish distilleries over the years. An amusing dig at collectors (not only of whisky) with more money than sense.
on 6 August 2012
This film was a surprise. I did not expect to be so moved to both tears and laughter-often at the same time. It showed a realism about the difficulties some young people face and can create for themselves and others and the humour with which they face life-limiting situations but, instead of wallowing in this, it provided hope of something better-through the support of a kindly father-figure, the love of partner and child and the discovery of an unforeseen talent. It made me think how many lives could be made meaningful by investing the millions some people do in a bit of flavoured water- "whisky"-into the lives of young people so that they can escape from poverty and brutality. Everyone who finds their special gift and has help to nurture it can make so much more of their lives. The Carntyne Whisky Appreciation Society did this and made me laugh. I think this is probably the best film I've ever seen-a great film about the need for young people to be given all the chances they need until they make something of themselves- as a result, I've decided to sponsor a room at Centre Point with the hope that it will help make a difference for someone. See this film- see behind the language, the thuggishness and criminality to the humanity and the possibility inherent even in the most damaged young people of the system. A great laugh while it makes you think and weep.
Veteran British film-maker Ken Loach has, of course, always 'done’ comedy equally as well as his depiction of gritty, politically-driven social themes – outstanding films such Kes, My Name Is Joe, Sweet Sixteen, Raining Stones, Riff-Raff, etc, are as memorable for their comic, as for their tragic, content – but I think, latterly, Loach’s comic outlook has also been infused with a more explicit sense of optimism and his 2012 film The Angels’ Share (along with 2009’s Looking For Eric) is a case in point. That’s not to say that the man is taking a rose-tinted view of the world – far from it, his 'fairytale-like’ story of ex-con and NED, Paul Brannigan’s father-to-be, Robbie, and his cunning plan to escape his poverty-stricken lot by touting a rare (thus valuable) and purloined stash of malt whisky, is still infused with much uncompromising realism – bouts of violence and expletive-filled Glaswegian brogue – but certainly tinged with more positivity (perhaps the film-maker is mellowing slightly in his later years).
In typical Loach fashion he sets up Robbie and his 'gang’ of ne’er-do-wells (read 'youths sentenced to community payback’) brilliantly as their court appearances – for stealing a parrot, climbing statues, vandalism, etc – see them passed into the care of 'community mentor’, the brilliant John Henshaw’s Harry, with Gary Maitland’s hilarious, slow-witted Albert already marked out as the 'village idiot’ (following the film’s opening, hilarious railway track scene). The set-up here is thus similar to that in 'Eric’ as the quick-witted Henshaw once again is looking out for a 'disadvantaged underdog’ – and, whilst also sharing a degree of the earlier film’s sense of whimsy, it is interesting that Loach has actually grounded his films in two British obsessions – football and, here, booze. And, of course, even though the chance discovery of Robbie’s remarkable 'nose for the grain’ (and hence his chance to offload his booty to a typically impressive Roger Allam’s whisky aficionado, Thaddeus) does stretch credibility a little, we are carried along by the film’s irresistible warm-heartedness and sense of the underdog that this really doesn’t matter (even singing along to The Proclaimers, no less!).
A final mention for some of the acting on show here. Loach (plus casting director) have done another great job of finding some fine naturalistic, and largely inexperienced, talent notably Brannigan and his 'voice of reason’, girlfriend Siobhan Reilly’s Leonie. The Angels’ Share is another fine film produced by a rare national treasure and one that British film will miss hugely when he finally decides to ‘hang up his boots’.
on 5 July 2015
Words defy me! Paul Brannigan as Robbie acts out his very own gritty Glaswegian life story. Read about Paul for yourselves, he will amaze and inspire you. Funny, real, violent but social reality permeates the whole film. I was left humbled and angry that we as a nation have left so many Scottish teenagers feeling disenfranchised and socially excluded from hope, inspiration and self-worth. Please watch it you will be entertained but moved too, I hope !
on 22 September 2012
Being brought up in the East end of Glasgow, where a lot of this film is set and filmed. I wouldn't say I can relate personally to the characters but I can see that the storyline could well be based on true events. Its a wonderful story with a nice ending. Love it and cant wait to buy it, I saw it on a flight to America and I watched it twice. So funny in parts too.
on 27 February 2013
Ken Loach is a very thoughtful Director, and this subject matter is not in the headline sections of thriller, action or even really, comedy. It starts by addressing some very real issues of the circle and spiral of under-privileged upbrings and the strive to escape is brought into sharp but not patronising focus. Once the main substance of the film gets going, however, it morphs into a film you can sit back and enjoy. Some wonderfully subtle humour leads the group of pretty much unknown actors' characters into a wonderful plot-line, filmed in some wonderful locations. Their journey to better themselves through the whisky industry is both touching and clever. One or two of the 'incidents' towards the end are wonderfully unexpected, well acted, carefully scripted, and concludes with a heart-warming moment, without being mawkish or sentimental. Well done to a young set of actors who never try to overact and who portray their characters with absolute honesty. Great film. Highly recommended, whether you like whisky or not.