Brew ha ha – The Angels’ Share review

The Angels’ Share – Starring Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, and Roger Allam. Directed by Ken Loach. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

The Angels’ Share is the charming story of four Scottish criminals who find redemption – if not exactly rehabilitation – through alcohol. It may not seem like the typical logline for a heart-warmer; it seems about right for a Ken Loach flick. In his latest picture (the Jury Prize winner at the 2012 Cannes festival) a quartet of would-be Scotch appreciators is clued into an auction for one of the rarest and tastiest crates in all of history. Though they’re not exactly ‘Ocean’s Eleven’– in style, skill, or brain capacity – they orchestrate a heist that might offer them an opportunity to escape their cycle of crime. Or, you know, maybe they’ll just get a nice drink out of it.

Former crim Paul Brannigan stars as Robbie, a figuratively and emotionally scarred young man who is one slip-up away from getting a ten-year prison sentence for thuggery. With a baby on the way and a supportive girlfriend, he’s keen to make his latest attempt at a decent life stick (even if his old enemies and aggressive father-in-law keep trying to drag him back down to their level). His community service officer Harry (John Henshaw) takes a shining to Robbie, and invites him along to his whisky appreciation classes.

Soon, Robbie’s fellow delinquents learn to appreciate the smoky, fruity, leathery textures of Harry’s favourite drink, including dim-witted Albert (Gary Maitland), light-fingered Mo (Jasmin Riggins), and sensible Rhino (William Ruane). They’re tempted by the potential million dollar value of a rare crate, though it isn’t until a refined and ethically dubious drink appreciator named Thaddeus (the fantastic Roger Allam) presents himself as a potential buyer of the ripped-off booze.

The title, referring to the percentage of liquor that evaporates during distillation, is a perfect approximation of the film’s uplifting tone (not something that can be said of all Ken Loach movies). Paul Laverty’s script features plenty of wonderful comic asides, but the drama and struggle of a young Scot desperately trying to better himself isn’t totally disregarded (one sequence, in which he agrees to a meeting with an innocent kid he formerly beat half-blind, is particularly distressing). Loach directs with the humanistic touch we’ve long known him for, and, perhaps for the first time in the septuagenarian director’s career, he has a legitimate claim to the year’s best crowd-pleaser.

4/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

The Angels’ Share plays the Perth International Arts Festival from November 27 to December 9, 2012. It is already screening in Sydney and Melbourne.

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