Monday, April 15, 2013

The Angels' Share

Have I got a little sleeper for you: "The Angels' Share," a new Scottish comedy from director Ken Loach, better known for his class-conscious dramas (he made my top-ten list in 1990 with "Hidden Agenda" and again in 2000 for "Bread and Roses"). Loach brings his trademark integrity and acuity to this lighter fare, introducing us to Robbie Emerson, a young Glaswegian with a knocked-up girlfriend, a rap sheet of street thuggery, and a thirst for decent employment.

Harry, the big bear of a man who runs the community payback program Robbie's placed in after his latest act of violence, is a whiskey connoisseur, and takes Robbie and his mates on a distillery tour, where Robbie's chosen for a blind tasting and turns out to have a nose for it. He begins to read up on whiskey, and finds out about an upcoming auction of a one-of-a-kind cask that the tasting master has described as "simply beyond price." He remembers the tour guide's comment that about two percent of each cask evaporates naturally - they call it the angels' share - and sees an opportunity for one last theft, the one that will provide for his girlfriend and his new son and let him leave the familial feuds and disgrace of his past behind.

This thumbnail sketch of the plot doesn't begin to convey the lightness and joy of this movie, its warm heart and stream of big out-loud laughs. Robbie's mates make delightful company, especially Albert, who doesn't know the Mona Lisa ("Mona who?") or understand the geography of Edinburgh ("What the fuck is a firth?"), and who has hilarious problems climbing a steep hill in his makeshift kilt. The filmmakers have thoughtfully provided subtitles - as all such films should - but it's such a winning movie, you'll get the beat even if you don't know all the words.

I've not tasted a drop of whiskey in my life and couldn't give a fig about it, but the movie knows whiskey and everything else about this young man's life. There's a scene in which Robbie must attend a TASC - Talk After Serious Crime - in which a victim of his hooliganism and the victim's family tell him about the damage he's caused them. In a lesser movie, Robbie would respond with a speech of his own. Loach is too good for that. Here, Robbie listens without apology, tears streaming down his face. An actor named Paul Brannigan plays Robbie, without affect. It's a remarkably reactive performance, in the best way. This is not an actor waiting for his scenemate to finish to recite his lines. He has the gift of listening and reacting in a real and human way.

"The Angels' Share" has a sweetness to it that's not cloying but charming. It's got a lot of laughs, a lot of heart, and even a little suspense. Without a real romance, it manages to be a perfect date movie, an evening's great light entertainment. I recommend it without reservation.

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