Starring: Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, Gary Maitland
Directed by: Ken Loach (“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”)
Written by: Paul Laverty (“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”)
“The Angels’ Share,” a U.K. comedy-drama that won director Ken Loach the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, goes down fairly smooth. Despite the film’s two distinct halves not fitting together as harmoniously as, say, a thick porter and a healthy portion of haggis and squirrel pie, Loach delivers a clever take on the heist film. It should charm the kilt right off you.
Set in Scotland, “The Angels’ Share” follows Robbie (Paul Brannigan), a down-and-out Glaswegian man whose most recent run-in with the law could put him behind bars for a long time. When the judge shows him mercy and sentences him to community service, Robbie decides he doesn’t want to be a thug anymore. With a newborn son and a supportive girlfriend (Siobhan Reilly), his priorities have shifted and now include providing for his family and staying out of trouble. When he meets fellow petty criminals Rhino (William Ruane), Albert (Gary Maitland), and Mo (Jasmin Riggins) while earning service hours, the foursome devise a plan to steal a priceless barrel of whisky up for auction and give themselves a second chance at starting a new life.
While the time spent with Robbie and his cohorts in the second half of the film is quirky and fun, the most affecting parts of the film come in the first half when we witness how challenging it is going to be for Robbie to walk the straight and narrow. Not only does his girlfriend’s family want nothing to do with him, Robbie knows his sworn enemy Clancy (Scott Kyle) will never let their longtime feud end, which could ruin everything for him and his family if he gets arrested again. Watching Robbie confront these hurdles feels genuine. He’s an easy character to root for despite having some major character flaws. Whether it’s uprooting his family and leaving town or using his natural talent to become a whiskey connoisseur or getting away with the insane heist scheme, you want him to find some way to start on a clean slate.
Bumped up against these poignant scenes is the disconnected second half, which plays out more like a mainstream movie. Still, as unique as the target is (at least it’s not a rare painting or a bank vault they’re going after), “The Angels’ Share” is a welcomed break from the brain-dead American heist attempts of recent years like “Tower Heist.” This motley crew might not include big names like Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller, but it’s definitely a lot sharper.