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Mature with a Pleasing After-Taste
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.