‘The Angels’ Share’
Director: Ken Loach
Stars: Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw
3 (out of 5) globes
The British filmmaker Ken Loach ("My Name is Joe," "The Wind That Shakes the Barley") is a prolific and committed chronicler of the working class; his public statement on the recent passing of Margaret Thatcher was not one of the kind ones. Nevertheless, every two or three of his many films tends to be a goofy, rollicking comedy. “Looking for Eric” even rehashed “Play It Again Sam” with a postman and his imaginary friend, real-life footballer Eric Cantona (as himself). But there’s always, always a point when the fun stops dead in its tracks, with grim reality, even tragedy, abruptly stepping back in as a severe buzzkill.
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“The Angels’ Share,” the most recent film by Loach (and screenwriter Paul Laverty), improbably inverts this schematic: It’s a grim, depressing drama suddenly redeemed, if you will, by an affably inane Hollywood heist plot. Another charismatic Loach find, newcomer Paul Brannigan plays a young hothead with a history of violence so deep and scary he’s barred from his own son’s birth. Finally looking to turn his life around, he discovers that he has an innately strong nose for whiskey, around the same time he learns a cask of the world’s rarest whiskey, a batch “beyond price,” is about to auctioned off. Could he and a few of his wacky community-service buds perhaps siphon some off and sell it to the highest bidder?
What starts off as intense, even for Loach — a flashback shows our coked-up hero beating a poor guy nearly to death — eventually turns into the type of film that plays The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” twice. Granted, that’s Loach’s biggest concession to the popcorn crowd. Even as this turns into a low-rent “Ocean’s Eleven,” crossed with a slobs versus snobs comedy — in which lower class Glaswegians with accents so thick they require subtitles invade the prim world of booze connoisseurs — Loach and Laverty keep one foot in downer reality. Even a hilariously offhand screw-up in their plan produces a stretch of very real and very unpleasant shouting. Other, more broad jokes play straight, as when one thirsty guy farts before downing a spit jar that’s also filled with puke. Is it a film that subverts the “Full Monty” feel-good template or succumbs to it? Either way, and as ever, it’s just good that a guy as serious as Loach has a huge sense of humor.