Published May 16, 2013It may take its time in getting there, but Ken Loach's The Angels' Share eventually develops into a sunny, goofy breed of heist picture. Rather than a specialized team attempting to lift precious jewels with an ingenious, elaborate scheme, this one finds a group of society's castoffs trying to make off with some extremely rare and valuable whiskey. It's an amusing, if somewhat trifling, film that should be considered a relatively minor work for one of England's most prolific filmmakers.
Though the lengthy set-up does lend necessary weight to later events, it's still a little too slow and hews a little too close to a familiar formula to warrant its deliberate pacing. Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is an expectant father in Scotland who just can't seem to keep out of trouble. When we first meet him, he's narrowly avoiding jail time after his latest scrap, receiving heaps of community service instead. Between his girlfriend's disapproving family and an ongoing feud with another clan that spans generations, the possibility of conflict and violence lurks at every turn.
Predictably, his sentence ultimately leads him to the stabilizing surrogate family he's never known. He quickly forms a father-son bond with Harry (John Henshaw), the man in charge of his community service, and the two reluctantly welcome a few other delinquents into the fold, who never seem to have anything better to do anyway. The group begins to take a shared interest in Harry's passion for the finer points of whiskey tasting and before long they are hatching a plan to siphon a coveted cask of whiskey worth over a million dollars.
While the events and characters are fairly thin (except for the unorthodox heist), the execution helps elevate some of the weaker elements. A scene in which Robbie is forced to re-live his most brutal transgression through a meeting with his scarred victim pushes the likability of our main character to the brink. The supporting performances, especially those of Henshaw and Gary Maitland (as the absolute dimmest of bulbs), bring to life otherwise clichéd or underwritten roles.
While it's not exactly one of the Ocean's movies, there is still suspense to be found in the climactic whiskey heist because we are invested enough by then to want these wayward criminals to get away with the loot. It's an act that helps redeem not only the misdeeds of its characters, but some of the more meandering and disjointed parts of the film. (eOne)