When I first heard about Ken Loach‘s film The Angels’ Share (2012), I was completely expecting something different from what I received. I heard it was a lighthearted heist film. About an hour into the film I thought I was in the wrong theatre. From what I could tell they were speaking English (although I could’ve used some translation during certain portions), but during the first hour there was no diamond heist, very little comedy, and it definitely had me questioning whether I misheard the French theatre manager.
The film begins in a stressful manner, as a drunken bonehead staggers around an empty train station with a bottle of lager in his hand. He’s standing too close to the edge of the tracks and a voice from the station’s intercom warns the belligerent fool to back away from the edge of the tracks. There is a train approaching any minute the intercom warns. The bonehead becomes defensive for no reason and begins to shout obscenities, while in the process falling off the platform and onto the tracks. Again, the intercom warns sternly to get off the tracks as a train is quickly approaching. The idiot resumes his obscenities while staggering off the rails just as the train storms by.
We’ve just been introduced to one the masterminds of this supposed heist movie.
We are introduced to the other characters as they attend their criminal hearings in court. Each has been found guilty and sentenced to community service. The story primarily focuses on Robbie (Paul Brannigan), who just narrowly avoids having to serve a considerable jail sentence following a needless assault. He’s just become a dad and has vowed to change his life in order to support his child and girlfriend. We are introduced to the environment these young adults have to contend with on a daily basis. It’s a location that leaves little room for a life outside of drinking, smoking, and educated conversations.
While four characters are serving community service they are introduced to their community service monitor, Harry (John Henshaw), who monitors the group throughout their duties. After the group performs several duties, Harry treats them to a tour of a scotch distillery and a tasting. The tasting room manager challenges Robbie to describe his thoughts on the distillery’s scotch and is surprised to find Robbie has a keen palate.
As the group and Harry continue their interest in scotch, the group becomes aware of a possible coup that’ll get them out of the slums, if only temporary. They hatch a plan to siphon off some insanely rare scotch from a distillery. The heist is on. I’m in the right theatre!
It’s not a coincidence that the film’s plot doesn’t materialize until more than an hour into the film, which focuses primarily on the social consequences currently allowing Scottish youth to drink, not hold down jobs, and be violent. Some portions of the film are a bit cheesy, but I believe that is due to the main player, Brannigan, not being a professionally trained actor, but someone from the area and who has lived the life the character is portraying. It’s a film about second chances and doing good to change your life around, just as the director is giving Brannigan his chance.
It’s hard to describe, but I wasn’t really into the movie until the last ten minutes when I found myself rooting for the group. Even though it took so long to get to the heist, the tension was built right under you as you waited. I won’t spoil the ending, but it made me want to reach for the liquor cabinet and indulge with the troupe.