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The Angels' Share

Even Robbie Ellison is hard put to slough off the severe judgment about him of his girlfriend’s father: “A waste of space.” Young Robbie (the resourceful Paul Brannigan) is already an ex-con and he’s just barely escaped another jail term for a savage assault on a man because his lawyer convinced a skeptical judge that her client has a new-found sense of responsibility from his relationship with the expectant Leonie (Siobhan Reilly). He’s without money, any real prospects, he’s crashing with friends, has no family support, and is trying to escape the brutal wrath of a young man pursuing Robbie in a family blood feud. He’s beginning to feel remorse but he also feels checkmated as he surveys his closed-off little world.

Robbie is the unlikely hero of Ken Loach’s new comedy heist movie, The Angels’ Share, which begins in the precincts of Glasgow that neither tourists nor respectable residents venture into if they can avoid it.

Gently ironic, warmly comic, and good-naturedly vulgar aren’t descriptive terms that are commonly applied to most of the veteran Loach’s work. He’s reliably been concerned with what film journalist David Thomson once called “tough, exploratory pictures about a more or less beleaguered working class.” Robbie and his mates are certainly beleaguered, but The Angels’ Share is about his wild scheme to escape what seems an almost ordained and bleak fate.

Assigned by that skeptical judge to community service, Robbie discovers that Harry (John Henshaw), his friendly, avuncular supervisor, is a malt whiskey connoisseur. Before long, Robbie discovers that he too has a discerning nose and palate for the expensive stuff. And this leads to a crazy plan to steal a portion of the contents of a recently discovered cask of Malt Mill, “the holy grail” of the elite beverage, soon to be auctioned off to someone with obscene amounts of money.

Robbie’s plan entails hitching rides to the Scottish Highlands and a distillery there with three friends from his work crew, none of whom have ever been near this fabled part of their country. They don kilts to more persuasively fake their credentials as whiskey enthusiasts, and the movie becomes an amiable low farce, even as Loach and writer Paul Laverty keep injecting their slyly witty outlook.

In The Angels’ Share (the title refers to the two percent of the distillate that evaporates during production). Loach has taken grimmer, tougher elements from his other movies and gentled them, weaving them into a droll narrative fabric. The movie may rely on some sentimental whimsy, but you’ll probably want to believe in it, anyway.

Watch the trailer for The Angels' Share

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