Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share (2012) was one of my top 5 films of last year. I was lucky enough to catch it again on the big screen tonight as it has just started a brief season at Arc Cinema here in Canberra. So I thought I would take the chance to share some more in depth thoughts on this pretty fantastic film.
Loach is renowned for the social realism of his films. This is the only Loach film I have caught and it definitely does have that aspect to it, especially in regards the young people who have found themselves in community service and the circumstances that have led them to that place. But the film is also quite hilarious and if anything the straight comedy aspects of the film outweigh the dramatic side of things, though the balance is pretty spot on really. The film focuses on Robbie, a young man who has once again found himself in trouble with the law. The judge spares him jail time and instead Robbie finds himself in community service with a ragtag crew of lovable misfits. He also finds Harry there, the man who takes Robbie (and the rest of the crew) under his wing and sets them on the relatively straight and narrow. And the key to the new found hope for Robbie and his friends? Why the bottle of course.
The Angels’ Share is a film that is in many ways soaked in and permeated by whisky. Harry changes Robbie’s life by engendering a passion for the spirit in him. The passion of many for whisky is examined in the film and the rampant pretentiousness that characterises much whisky drinking, buying and collecting is skewered quite intelligently. This newfound passion for whisky that Robbie finds offers him a way out of his life, which has left him a really beaten down and oppressed young father to be. I won’t go into too many details, but rest assured that the eventual path taken is perhaps not a standard cliché one that you will be thinking of. It is a really great swerve in the second half of the film which is one of the things that allows The Angels’ Share to rise far above the conventional ‘coming of age tale’ that my plot synopsis perhaps makes it sound like. Much of the reason that the second half of the film feels quite genuine is that the film takes a fair bit of time early on to establish Robbie’s dark past. This is no heart of gold lovable rogue. There were times in his life when he was an absolute thug and the film finds him struggling to resist his violent tendencies to embrace a new, calmer outlook on life.
Robbie is played by Paul Brannigan, a non-professional actor. Or rather he was a non-pro, but it looks like this film has launched him into an acting career, one that based on this performance should be fantastic. Indeed a number of the roles here are filled by non-professional actors and it works really well. It is a contrivance that I am often not a fan of. Much of this is due to the fact that many directors feel there is something almost sacred about using non-pros and has a result a dirge of po-faced realism is all we get. But Loach is happy to let these guys let themselves go in this rollicking film. There is plenty of really boisterous humour, at times even verging into ‘gross out’ territory, and the latter half of the film is almost a heist film. All that being said they do also enhance the film by lending it a kind of laconic authenticity that I think would have been quite hard to achieve with usual performers.
The Angels’ Share manages to be an uplifting and life affirming film without feeling like it is forcing that at all. Rather, by combining a hilarious comic sensibility with creative escape from the trials and tribulations of life, it manages to create it in a more organic way.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
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