It’s somewhat crushingly appropriate that a film that has booze factors so intricately enmeshed into its plotting as The Angels’ Share should feel almost drunkenly assembled. Although well acted and boasting a few interesting moments, absolutely no separate parts of this unfocused drama/comedy/heist film from British director Ken Loach (The Wind the Shakes the Barley, Route Irish) add up to a cohesive whole. Even worse is how it slowly squanders any and all good will as it hurtles towards an incredibly misguided conclusion.
Young, first time father Robbie (Paul Brannigan) wants to start a new life for himself and his partner (Siobahn Reilly) in Glasgow, but his violent past seems to always want to catch up with him. Her family wants him out of the picture entirely and are willing to beat him senseless to get their way, and he just narrowly avoided a prison sentence and instead has ended up with several hundred hours of community service. While on an outing with his ragtag work crew to a whiskey distillery, Robbie starts to get a nose and tongue for the finer points of the drink that ultimately leads to the work crew concocting a plan to steal a cask of the most expensive hooch in all the land, a priceless barrel aged beauty that is about to fetch well north of a million pounds at auction.
It’s not that the film is complex, but rather that it’s three almost completely different movies that have no hope of ever tying together in a way that makes much sense. The first third that focuses largely on Robbie’s troubles in trying to go straight gets the film off to a promising start. Brannigan puts in some good work as a sympathetic hothead, and Reilly is heartbreaking as the woman nearing the end of her rope but still full of love for her partner and concern for his well being. Also similarly great is the almost fatherly relationship that Robbie has with the work crew leader, played by John Henshaw with considerable grace and empathy towards his charges.
In the second third it becomes an almost stereotypical kind of British ensemble comedy as Robbie tries to better himself by trying to teach his co-workers the finer points of whisky drinking. This is where the problems begin. There’s nothing really to fluidly translate to this section of the film aside from the resident kleptomaniac of the group stealing a bunch of bottles from the distillery and an endless scene of the motley crew of thieves, drunks, and hooligans tasting whisky. There are several scenes of people just tasting whisky that seem to go on forever with little to no reason.
About an hour into this 100 minute movie, Loach and writer and frequent collaborator Paul Laverty finally get around to creating the heist the film hinges on, but by this point everything rings totally false. It’s almost a complete betrayal of the redemptive arc they had been building for Robbie from the start. The movie goes off the rails in a terrible way, never to fully recover despite the best efforts of Loach’s directing and the cast.
There are some amusing and heartfelt moments along the way, but there’s precious little to transition between them. The film technically works from scene to scene, but none of the scenes feel like they are in the same movie together. There’s an assembly of various criminal types (the alcoholic with coke bottle glasses, the aforementioned punky, kleptomaniac, a guy with a few teeth missing) that comprise the bandits, but these people are so threadbare and falling in line behind a guy who should clearly know better. It’s a leap in logic that feels hollow and only in place to create some sort of a fence swinging crowd pleaser, which anyone familiar with Loach’s work will know isn’t his strong suit.
Wouldn’t just living a nice, normal life be crowd pleasing enough? Why do we need the heist? It’s almost pointless when the film has a leading character that starts off as sympathetic as possible. Perhaps worst of all is that Loach can’t really find a way to make the heist that exciting or all that amusing, and that’s probably because the audience would likely care more about everything that came before it than the actual climax. Of all the ways The Angels’ Share could have gone it makes the mistake of picking one of the wrong ones.
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