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With: Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, Gary Maitland, Jasmin Riggins, William Ruane, Roger Allam, Siobhan Reilly
Written by: Paul Laverty
Directed by: Ken Loach
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 101
Date: 19/04/2013

The Angels' Share (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Whisky Galore

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For decades, the veteran filmmaker Ken Loach has been the realistic, working class voice of the UK. Mostly, this means he has turned in very grim, serious works about the social, economic, and political situations his characters endure on a day-to-day basis. But sometimes, he gets the itch to do something simple, old-fashioned and entertaining, such as his gangster film Sweet Sixteen or his fantasy/comedy Looking for Eric. Miraculously, these movies manage to be cuddly and comforting while still retaining that singular, bracing Loach look and feel.

The Angels' Share is a lightweight heist movie, and if it had been done by a regular Hollywood clock-puncher, you could poke a thousand holes in its plot logic. But Loach's realism lends an easygoing, ramshackle quality that adds to the movie's appeal and smoothes over any lack of tightness in the plot construction.

Paul Brannigan stars in his first movie as the ne'er-do-well Robbie. He's kind of a little guy and his ears stick out a bit too far, but he seems to be trying hard and you can't help but like him right away. He has a pregnant girlfriend (Siobhan Reilly), and he's determined to do the right thing, but her family hates him and wants him out of the way. Worse, he can't get a job because of his trouble with the law and a scar on his face. Doing community service for his latest trouble, he meets the kind-hearted Harry (John Henshaw), who introduces Robbie to the pleasures of fine whisky.

Harry takes Robbie and a handful of other sad-sacks for a tasting, and they all become fascinated by this new hobby. Then they learn about the existence of an ultra-rare cask that has been recently discovered and will be going up for auction. Robbie and his crew get the harebrained idea to steal a few bottles and sell it themselves.

It's rather impressive how Loach incorporates silly, almost standard-issue plot threads, such as characters wearing kilts for "disguises," as well as slapstick and coincidences, and it all seems perfectly natural rather than lazy storytelling. I think it helps that the casting here is so spot-on and the characters are so effortlessly sympathetic, subtly breaking away from their comic character types. It also helps that, like a great food movie, the movie has a genuine appreciation for the preparation, taste, texture, and odors of excellent whisky; it has the effect of making you thirsty for a glassful.

It gladdens my heart that Loach finds the time to relax and lighten up. I don't want to take away from his excellent serious works like Kes, Land and Freedom, and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, but it's hard being so serious all the time. Movies like The Angels' Share remind me that he's human and make me like him all that much more.

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