The Angel’s Share (2013)

Directed by Ken Loach
Written by Paul Laverty

As I was taking my seat in a local theater proud of its independent film offerings, settling in for one such film, Gimme the Loot (which I hope to review soon), the trailer for another came on. In the two minutes or so in which I was treated ever so briefly into the world of The Angel’s Share was plenty for me to be interested in the film and seek it out once it too came to theater near me. Ken Loach is a name with which I am familiar, as most movie buffs probably are. However, I have never had the pleasure of getting to see one of his films, of which his two most renowned are probably Kes and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, separated by over 35 years. After seeing his latest effort, I will be sure to check those films out and see if their constitutions are quite as socially aware, endearing, and mixed with a light sense of humor.

Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is a troubled young man who has experienced multiple offenses, faced jail time, and certainly comes with his fair share of baggage. After his latest burst of violence, the court shows Robbie mercy by sentencing him to community service, citing a change given his steady relationship with his now pregnant girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly). His latest victim, Clancy, is out for revenge, looking to get even. Robbie is tested as he tries to put his past behind him, and is helped when social worker Harry (John Henshaw) gives his a second chance, and a new passion: an appreciation of whisky. Attempting to escape his troubled past, Robbie is tempted once more when he learns of the discovery of a rare cask of whisky which expects to fetch nearly a million pounds at auction.

This was one of the more unique films I have seen in some time, but also I think not a coincidence that I discovered its existence in a trailer before the film Gimme the Loot. Both films explore the dichotomy between the haves and have nots, and feature a heist the main characters must complete in order to earn respect and put themselves in the position to be somebody, to have that chance. The Angel’s Share is somewhat more unique for its ability to mold genres together, and do it quite beautifully. Heist films can be redemptive, but bringing in the social themes Loach and writer Laverty do elevates the work to something else entirely. It is a struggle between social class as well as a struggle between love. The one thought that stuck in my head as I left the theater was the fact that we exist to love. That’s what this film gave me and assured me. Love is hope.

Robbie faces impossible odds, having been neglected as a child, formed in a darkness and set out into it with little to no chance of success. As he turned up in and out of jail as a Scottish youth, society told him he was a failure, that he had nothing left to give. But Harry shows us the truth of the matter, that random and selfless love of another human being can set that person free of their burdens if they are able to take that chance, be inspired, be moved to likewise love and find worth in their own life, worth to be bestowed upon those around them who are not only also seeking love, but deserve it as much those whose privileged lifestyles afford them the opportunity to take it for granted, or worse, overlook it. Compassion and sympathy are universal human qualities shared by our characters and, because of that, by the viewer as well. It’s hard not to pull for the misguided yet remorseful Robbie.

Loach/Laverty create full characters who lay out the beautiful themes of the film quite nicely. The hopeful nature of Robbie’s journey is brought to vibrant life by a wonderfully understated performance from Paul Brannigan. We can feel his pain and sense his longing not just for a better life, but for better human relationships with more meaningful connections. There are hurdles ahead of him, but there exists also hurdles on his heels. The supporting characters often deliver some very nice comedic relief, which is woven into the tale perfectly throughout, keeping the film from ever getting too serious or melodramatic. Some of the motivations and promises made in the film seem to toe a fine line of morality and justice, but the heart-warming overall story and performances endeared the journey, performances, and characters to me more than any of the issues I may have found with the film. The blurred line actually worked as an additional moment of reflection on the film which was already chock full of them.

***1/2 – Great


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