For a number of reasons, Ken Loach is a name not familiar to most American moviegoers. The biggest reason likely centrs around his subject matter as Loach largely focuses his cinematic efforts on the British working class and, let's face it, that's not a subject that matters to the narcissistic American moviegoer.
It seems like unless there are special effects or women's lit involved, American moviegoers largely avoid Brit-centered cinema with the possible exception of someone along the lines of Mike Leigh. Loach has always deserved better than he's received over here, and while it's doubtful that The Angels' Share
will change that it is one of the director's most accessible works yet for American audiences.
The Angels' Share
takes Loach's trademark edge and softens it a wee bit with this story that is surprisingly good-natured and heartfelt even as Loach still shows us the rough and tumble edges of the Glasgow working class. Working for the 10th time with writer Paul Laverty, Loach starts off the film with his usual starkness and what may very well be one of his most brutal scenes yet. This is British cinema after all, where authenticity demands that humor and heartbreak awkwardly yet peacefully co-exist unlike American "comedies" where any hint of actual drama within the comedy is met with a disapproving nod by Hollywood studios.
Robbie (Paul Brannigan) could probably best be described as a hooligan, a man whose penchant for violence and a lifetime of travel has left him time and again on the verge of incarceration. After yet another near escape from prison and a brutal, cocaine-fueled attack, Robbie is sentenced to community service under the direction of the kind of wise and insightful supervisor (John Henshaw) that one seems to only find in movies. When the supervisor discovers that Robbie has an extraordinary palate for whiskey tasting, a plot is formed involving an extraordinarily rare and valuable whiskey that could set Robbie and a crew that includes Albert (Gary Maitland), Rhino (William Ruane) and Mo (Jasmin Riggins) for life. It's at this point that Loach detours away from much of the starkness and moves the film towards more of a lighter, and dare I say more hopeful, film with more than a few laughs.
Brannigan, a relative novice, is truly exceptional here and manages to make Robbie an appealing character despite actions early on in the film that are far from appealing. The rest of the cast is strong, as well, with Henshaw's performance complementing that of Brannigan quite nicely and everyone making the shift from the film's early intense tone to a lighter, breezier one without much effort.
There's a sweetness to The Angels' Share
that is quite unexpected. In fact, I'd even say the film possesses an innocence pretty much never seen in any other Loach film. If there's a problem with it, and it wasn't really bothersome to me at all, it's that The Angels' Share
does occasionally feel under-developed and there are lengths to which the huge psychological shift doesn't quite convince.
These are minor issues, though those who don't fancy themselves fans of British films are likely to make a point of mentioning them.
The Angels' Share
is currently on a limited arthouse/indie run through the U.S. with Sundance Selects and is just opening up this weekend at Indianapolis's Keystone Art Cinema. While it may not be a film that will give you insight into exactly why you should go back and check out Loach's films, it's an intelligent and emotionally satisfying film that will make you do something that isn't always a response from Loach's films - smile.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic