Ken Loach is no stranger to Cannes, having been in competition for the Palme d’Or no less than eleven times, finally winning it in 2006 with The Wind That Shakes The Barley, after receiving the Prix du Jury twice in the nineties. Loach is known as a strongly political filmmaker, focusing on social injustice in England’s lower classes. This is true again in his latest entry to the festival, The Angels’ Share, though the film is decidedly lighter in tone than most of his previous offerings.
Protagonist Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is an unemployed thug with a long list of offenses to his name. His latest, beating somebody half to death while high on coke and alcohol, lands him in community service, though the judge stresses that this is his final chance. With his girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) soon to give birth, Robbie is set on bettering his life once and for all, but a long-running family feud is making this very difficult.
Robbie’s community service supervisor Harry (John Henshaw) is a generous man, keen on helping the young lad stay out of trouble. After witnessing Robbie’s reaction to his newborn son, Harry breaks out some of his prized single malt whisky to celebrate. Robbie doesn’t really like the stuff, but on a field trip with Harry and some of his fellow community service convicts, Robbie becomes interested in whisky. He shows talent and a good nose at a tasting in Edinburgh, and a broker (Roger Allam) takes note. He is there seeking information about a cask of the finest whisky that will soon go to auction, and he has a prospective buyer for it. Robbie and his friends Albert (Gary Maitland), Rhino (William Ruane), and Mo (Jasmin Riggins), however, have other uses for this cask, and they set out from Glasgow to the distillery auction site with a plan.
Even though Loach has a social agenda about the problems of the unemployed and abandoned youth of Glasgow, it takes the back burner soon after the second act begins. The problems Robbie faces with his family and his anger management issues are shown in raw, violent scenes. This is a disconnect from the lighter mood that follows as soon as Robbie and his three delinquent friends delve into the world of distilled spirits, and it almost feels as if the opening half hour belongs in another film altogether. The second and third acts follow a rather predictable path, but are enjoyable nevertheless, thanks to wonderful British humor and excellent interplay between the four main characters. Maitland in particular has a great knack for comedy, not in the least because of his looks. He also gets the funniest lines. One moment late in the film provides the biggest audience gasp, as the dimwitted Albert suddenly has a lucid moment to keep their financial plans intact.
The dramatic heavy lifting mostly has to be done by Brannigan, and the young actor shows remarkable talent, ably portraying Robbie’s short-tempered violence as well as the vulnerability underneath. Henshaw and Reilly also deliver solid work in the first act, though they disappear for most of the film afterward. The screenplay is uneven, with the serious tone and the lighter adventure never really connecting, but it has some good comedic moments, and the drama of the first half hour does stick.
This is a lesser film in Loach’s body of work, yet still interesting to watch, even if the director himself is somewhat unspectacular. Still, the Cannes jury deemed the film good enough to award the helmer yet another Prix du Jury on closing Sunday. So that’s now four out of twelve (five if you count the FIPRESCI award he also received here), not bad for a man who seems stuck on the same subject matter. No doubt he will be back soon on the Croisette to try and beat that average.
NOTE: This was the last ICS review actually written in Cannes, but expect a few more in the coming weeks. If there’s one thing in short supply at the festival, sadly, it is time, with so many films playing in several programs. But we’re not complaining….