Seventy-six year old Ken Loach can be described as the UK’s leftist conscience, always parked somewhere in the corner of the welfare state. Loach has consistently focused on the inequalities, violence and general blah running rampant among the working class, and how their plight has gotten worse in the accelerated capitalistic world of the new century. “The Angel’s Share,” however, shows the auteur in a rare upbeat mood, in one of the brightest and most celebratory films during his 45-year film career.

“The Angels’ Share” treads the familiar Loach line of plopping a likable but doomed-to-failure lad in the middle of a cold and indifferent society, and observing the results. Petty Glasgow criminal Robbie (Paul Brannigan) has narrowly escaped prison for an assault charge, for which he has instead been sentenced to 300 hours of community service. Before showing up for that, Robbie makes a pit stop at the hospital where girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) has just given birth to their son, Luke. Holding the baby in his arms, Robbie swears to turn over a new leaf.

This, despite the fact that no one has ever given Robbie a break and Leonie’s father refers to him as “a waste of space.” He means to work, to get his hands on some real money and find a place where he and Leonie can live happily ever after and send Luke to a nice school.

The Angels’ Share (Tenshi no Wakemae)
Director Ken Loach
Run Time 101 minutes
Language English
Opens Opens April 13, 2013

Robbie’s intentions are great; it’s just that he doesn’t want to waste time by going the legitimate route, and his newfound mates — Rhino (William Ruane), Albert (Gary Maitland) and Mo (Jasmine Riggins) — agree. A “good job” is like a mirage in the desert: None of the lads really know or have any idea what that might be like, exactly, so a well-planned heist is more in keeping with their imagination.

Robbie’s life turns around when community worker Harry (John Henshaw) takes him to a whisky distillery and inducts him into the enchantingly amber world of the single malt. Robbie discovers he has a talent for sniffing and differentiating between the complex and varied fragrances of whisky, which then calls the attention of whisky collector Thaddeus (Roger Allam).

It looks like Robbie has at last succeeded in pushing open the door to an entirely new fate, but Loach, working from a script by long-time collaborator Paul Laverty, is ever the realist. He shows how it’s never that easy, and how difficult it is for Robbie to shake off his past, or control his own violent tendencies.

What Loach does show in loving detail is the process by which Robbie stumbles upon the realization that a vocation is different from just a job. It has the power to define and shape his entire being and bring what had always eluded him: respect.

In this way, “The Angels’ Share” (the title refers to the 2 percent of whisky that inevitably evaporates during the distilling process) has more scope and generosity than anything Loach has done in the last decade. Whatever else Robbie loses, you get the feeling the 2 percent is his to savor. And all things considered, that’s not a bad deal.

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