Movie review: 'Angels' Share' lifts glass to whisky, second chances

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Robbie's lawyer throws it up as a "Hail Mary" pass to the judge.

"The prospects of fatherhood have changed this young man, and he would grasp one last opportunity with both hands," she says of her client who had a "chaotic childhood" and a history of violence signaled by the scar along a cheek. Now, his girlfriend, Leonie, is days away from delivering their first child.

'The Angels' Share'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

  • Starring:

    Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw.

  • Rating:

    No MPAA rating but R in nature due to violence and language.

Instead of putting Robbie behind bars, the judge sentences him to 300 hours of community service (or "community payback" as it's called in Glasgow) and tips the first domino that will change lives in Ken Loach's bittersweet comedy, "The Angels' Share."

It sounds like the title of a Hallmark holiday movie but it's actually a symbolic line used by a Scottish distillery guide in talking about whisky: "Every year about 2 percent of the spirit is actually lost. It just disappears and evaporates into thin air. Gone forever. It's what we call the angels' share."

The community-service gang -- all washouts lacking either luck or smarts -- are treated to the distillery tour by their kindhearted, fatherly supervisor, Harry (John Henshaw). When it turns out Robbie has a sophisticated palate for whisky, the new father hatches a plan to try to put his skills to good use and carve out a better life for himself and his family.

Here, strangers pay it forward and Robbie takes matters into his own hands, not always staying within the letter of the law. After all, he had cradled his infant son and, in the presence of Leonie (Siobhan Reilly), vowed to change: "I swear on your life and on mine, that I will never harm another person as long as I live."

Although "The Angels' Share" is underscored by the prospect that Robbie's lot in unemployed life might be hopeless, Mr. Loach ventures into far lighter and more optimistic territory than in previous working-class examinations such as "Sweet Sixteen," "Bread and Roses" or "My Name Is Joe." (This time, we get English subtitles for the heavily accented English.)

As in the past, the filmmaker gambles on untrained actors, including Paul Brannigan as Robbie. He was working alongside the police on a project called the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence when he first met writer Paul Laverty.

Mr. Brannigan also has a "wee boy ... and he's the most important thing that's happened to me." He lost his job and was left feeling betrayed and forlorn but eventually realized perhaps some sort of movie job could help him to pay off a Christmas loan.

As Robbie, he can swing from a stillness and tenderness with his son to a jittery energy and anger he worries he cannot contain. But, like a prized cask of whisky, he can mature and miraculously turn into something valuable and spirited.

Opens Friday at the Regent Square Theater.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:


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