THE ANGEL’S SHARE directed by Ken Loach (Scotland, 2012)

I’m getting a bit tired of Ken Loach movies. He’s like the Woody Allen of British cinema prolifically churning out film after film using the same production team; never worrying too much whether he is being in or out of fashion. And like Allen, his best work is behind him.

The recurring theme of his oeuvre is that a working class hero is something to be and if you want to be hero you have to follow the example of the lead character.

The problem with his latest movie is that you also have to be prepared to accept that a vicious hooligan can turn over a new leaf, become a whisky connoisseur and make enough money to start a new life. To believe this unlikely scenario it doesn’t pay to analyse the story too closely.

The movie  follows the sliding fortunes of three young men, and a token female, who are sentenced to community service for a range of misdemeanours. They are supervised by Henry (John Henshaw), a down to earth guy with a heart of gold.

When they are taken for a guided tour of a distillery as a reward for their good behaviour, Robbie, who has barely even tasted whisky before, discovers he can distinguish between good quality liquor and cheap imitations.

Ken Loach, Paul Hannigan and Paul Laverty.

Ken Loach, Paul Brannigan and Paul Laverty.

On a separate whisky-tasting meeting in Edinburgh the group of delinquents learn that bottles of the best whisky can be sold for six figure sums. Robbie hatches a cunning plan to siphon off some of this precious spirit to earn some cash on the black market. To disguise the fact that they look like petty hoodlums they blag their way into a distillery wearing kilts, an item of clothing which apparently places them above suspicion.

The pre-publicity makes this look like a bitter-sweet comedy in a similar vein to The Full Monty but don’t be fooled by appearances. In Peter Cattaneo’s film you could accept that the unemployed men from Sheffield would be desperate enough to turn to striptease to make ends meet. The premise of The Angel’s Share is even more far-fetched, much less convincing and nowhere near as funny.

Coupled with this, it doesn’t have a character with the streetwise charm of Robert Carlyle. Paul Brannigan doesn’t only play a thug, he looks like one. We are asked to set aside his violent past as a coke consuming, heavy drinking hoodlum solely on the basis that he has become a dad for the first time and vows to change his ways.

Ken Loach knows full well that culturally deprived backgrounds are breeding grounds for dysfunctional families, turf wars and violent crime. His films, scripted by Paul Laverty, are made with good intentions; seeking to show that where there is a will there is a way to break this depressing cycle. But wishing things were different doesn’t make it so.

Loach and Laverty are guilty of simplifying the issues and making radical change look like a simple case of being in the right place at the right time. Real life is more complex with fewer laughs.

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