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Film Review

‘The Angel’s Share’ is a celebration of fine spirit


the_angels_share_4‘The Angels’ Share’

4/5 stars

Director – Ken Loach

Writer – Paul Laverty

Cast – Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, Gary Maitland, Jasmin Riggings and William Ruane

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Life does not hand out second chances often, and when those lucky enough to be given the opportunity squander it, do they really deserve another? How many mistakes can people make in life before time ultimately makes them the fool? Among other questions, director Ken Loach explores these ideas in his award-winning (Jury Prize – Festival de Cannes 2012) new film “The Angels’ Share.” He may be an Englishman but, like Loach’s previous work, he is able to capture the spirit and energy of Glasgow and Scotland, the way only an outsider could.

Glasgow Sheriff Court. Another day, another set of delinquents making their way through the court process. To the legal system’s eye they are adults, but as anyone can plainly see, the lot before the judge has no more maturity than an eye-rolling teenager — their smart-alec quips would be lost on American audiences were it not for the blessing of subtitles.

Our protagonist Robbie (Paul Brannigan) has been in and out of the system all his life, this time for assault. It would seem his last chance has come and gone, but upon learning Robbie will soon be a father, the judge compassionately sentences him to “community payback” instead of hard time. Robbie serves his time with Albert (Gary Maitland), Mo (Jasmin Riggings) and Rhino (William Ruane) under the guidance of hero and mentor Harry (John Henshaw), the group’s supervisor.

When they hear the news of Robbie’s son’s birth during another day serving the community in true court-ordered fashion, Harry rushes Robbie to the hospital. The pair find the maternity ward just in time for Robbie to be denied visitation by the mother’s father who doesn’t care for Robbie or his family. Harry convinces Robbie keep his cool considering his current legal quarrels and invites him for a drink of fine whiskey in celebration of fatherhood — a whiskey and a shared moment that’s so fine, it proves to be what finally gets through Robbie’s otherwise thick and helpless skull and sets an appreciative tone for the rest of the story.

The rarest of whiskeys takes center stage in Robbie’s plan to seize that much-needed last chance. But even more than the spirit from within the barrel, the spirit of this film overall is what makes “The Angel’s Share” something truly remarkable. Loach shows us the comedy within the drama, as we watch these young lives of Robbie and his cohorts play out before our eyes. The social realism is as present as it is an all of Loach’s films, but here it is warm and whole-hearted. Moments of drama unfold with emotional scenes of Robbie holding his boy for the first time and relentless and desperate attempts to fulfill his vow to turn his life around for this new life and family.

The moments of intimacy continue in relationship between Harry and Robbie in a unique form. Their initial meeting is more like a father trying to teach his son typical life lessons about punctuality, reliability and responsibility, which continues and shifts back and forth from tough love to genuine mutual empathy. Harry understands these misfits and knows how hard it can be to turn one’s life around. It’s these relationships that offer each character a real chance at new life, and throughout the film, it’s what the characters must learn for themselves.

The full, rich tones of “The Angels’ Share” are captured through the exquisite writing of Paul Laverty, and while this is a lovely tale of redemption, it is not without a share of subtle mischief. It is said that 2 percent of the whisky in the barrels evaporates every year, known to aficianados as the angels’ share. Second chances do not come very often, and even though these four know a change needs to happen in their lives, perhaps one last heist will provide the opportunity to really start over. After all, it seems the angels have all ready had their share. CV

David Rowley is an Iowa native with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa and a master’s in film journalism from the University of Glasgow. Whether he’s wandering the foothills of Scotland or the concrete prairie of Des Moines, this cinefile/journalist/gumshoe is always prepared with a pen in his pocket feverishly searching for that “perfect level of ridiculous that makes the absurd desirable.”

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