Director: Ken Loach
Cast: Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, William Ruane
Running Time: 106 mins
Release: June 1st
That Ken Loach is a talented filmmaker is something of a given. He makes fascinating, socially aware films with morally ambiguous characters who are as compelling as they are real. Does he owe audiences a debt due his obvious talent? Does the standard he has set with Kes and maintained with the likes of Sweet Sixteen and Looking For Eric demand a certain calibre of cinema? Not really, no. That being said, pretty good is the enemy of great, and it can be disappointing when you know that greatness is a distinct possibility. Despite winning the Jury Prize at Cannes last week, The Angels’ Share is not a great film.
The Angels’ Share has a lot of Loach’s hallmarks. Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is working class and entrenched in a petty family feud that’s been going for generations. He also seems to be a good person who’s done some horrible things and is trying to change. He has a coterie of oddball friends (including William Ruane, a Loach regular who always finds great ways to make small roles shine) and a father figure in John Henshaw, the man who initially triggers his interest in, and nose for, fine whiskey. Everything is shot very naturalistically; there are a lot of serious conversations, static cameras and socio-realist politics. So far, so Loach.
Then, almost out of nowhere, the film becomes a very (and I mean VERY) by the numbers heist movie with occasionally unique Scottish elements, in that they’re stealing whiskey and they wear kilts. There’s nothing wrong with these scenes. They’re funny and move along quite nicely. What’s jarring is that they exist in the same film in which Robbie is forced, by law, to hear the story of the young man he beat so severely that he’s nearly blind in one eye. It’s an incredible scene and very well played by all involved, but less than 45 minutes later you’re supposed to laugh at comic relief dick jokes?
Looking for Eric worked because even while it was being funny it was compelling and the jokes were predicated on the story, because the story was Eric (Bishop, not Cantona). Here though, Brannigan has to take a backseat to the plot and there’s no development of his character past the fiftieth minute. He’s smart and he wants to change for his newborn son, but there’s nowhere near the level of understanding that we have of Marting Compston in Sweet Sixteen, or even of Cillian Murphy in The Wind That Shakes The Barley. There are a few indicative conversations and important scenes, but when we’re being asked to care about and root for a formerly violent criminal, we need a little more to go on; Robbie as a character simply doesn’t engender the same kind of goodwill.
Loach’s efficient directing in the latter stages and character development in the early ones keep this from being a bad movie, but as was said earlier, pretty good’s the enemy of great.