By Joshua Handler
Angels’ Share Movie Poster
Ken Loach has had a long career making films. His films are not very well known in the United States, but across the pond in the UK, he has achieved great success with such films as Kes and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Now, Loach has made a near-masterpiece with The Angels’ Share, a delightful, but weighty comedy that is the first film I have seen in English that had English subtitles. The reason for this was that the Glaswegian accents of the actors might be too thick for some American audiences to fully understand. I had little problem understanding the actors, rendering the subtitles useless to me, but I do not doubt that others will have trouble understanding their accent.
The Angels’ Share, winner of the Jury Prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, is one of the best films I have had the pleasure of seeing thus far this year. While that may sound like an empty statement, as it is only April, I have seen nearly three-dozen films this year, most quite good, some not as much, and this is in the top three for me thus far. The Angels’ Share tells the story of Robbie, a rough criminal who decides to turn his life around after becoming a dad. While carrying out a community service order, Robbie meets Harry, the head of his community service crew, along with a few other misfits. Upon visiting a local whiskey distillery, Robbie finds a new passion and through the help of his new friends, turns his life around. However, people from his past come back to try to hold Robbie back from escaping his past life of crime.
One of the key ingredients to the success of The Angels’ Share is the superb screenplay by frequent Ken Loach -collaborator Peter Laverty. Laverty’s script is brilliant for so many reasons, mainly in that it never loses itself (there is a multitude of places where that could happen). It is focused on Robbie and because of this, he becomes a deeply sympathetic and fully developed character. Laverty also develops all of the supporting characters, and because of this, they are all unique, lovable, and hilarious. It is very hard to make me laugh in a movie, but somehow this one made me laugh throughout, no small feat. At one point late in The Angels’ Share, it threatens to turn into a heist film, but Laverty doesn’t let that happen. The fact that he was able to rescue this film from descending into a clichéd genre film is impressive. The final scene of The Angels’ Share is especially great. It is beautifully crafted and a pleasant surprise, completing the character arc of Robbie. I left this movie feeling enriched and happy, a rarity in today’s world of dumb teen comedies and depressing (but great) Oscar fare.
The acting in The Angels’ Share is the other key ingredient to its success. Paul Brannigan makes his debut as Robbie and plays him perfectly. His portrayal of Robbie shows a conflicted man, but also one with a wily side and a big heart. The supporting cast of John Henshaw, Gary Maitland, Jasmin Riggins, and William Ruane are equally wonderful, as they bring Laverty’s words to life and round out the film by creating some of the most memorable characters in recent memory.
Overall, The Angels’ Share is a beautiful piece of cinema.
I rarely feel as great walking out of a movie theater as I did after The Angels’ Share. It has everything that makes a great movie and while it surely will not be for everyone due to its dark sense of humor, it will thrill those that appreciate its sense of humor.