Scotch, Scotland and a Wonderfully Warm Adventure.
Three years ago, spurred by a mutual love of film and cheeseburgers, my friend Regine and I started a tradition. Every month, we grab dinner at New York’s 5 Napkin Burger and then a flick. Our picks vary greatly. One month, we’ll catch the quiet loveliness of The Beginners, the next a raucous wide releaser like Bridesmaids or Hot Tub Time Machine. Our monthly movie is always an adventure, an opportunity for me to put away my critic hat and see something I’d never seek out alone.
So when this month’s movie night came ‘round, I had a rare request from Regine: Let’s see something funny. A quick glance at Rotten Tomatoes confirmed my fears. Every comedy out at the time looked dreadful. I could sit through the Burt Wonderstones of the world and write a bad review, but there had to be something special amongst the early April dreck. Luckily my prayers were answered in the form of The Angel’s Share, a wry, vulgar and wonderfully warming film that ranks high on my list of 2013’s pleasant surprises.
Directed by the prolific Ken Loach (The Wind Shakes the Barley), The Angel’s Share starts out with a rogues’ gallery of lightweight criminals getting sentenced for a variety of hilarious misdemeanors. Amongst their ranks is Robbie (Paul Brannigan), a small time hood trying to leave behind the thug life of his Glasgow upbringing for the sake of his pregnant wife. While doing his court ordered community service, he befriends Harry (John Henshaw), the head of the work program along with a band of malcontents also doing their time. As Harry and the boy get closer, Robbie begins to learn about the world of single malt Scotch and discovers his extensive palette. With some newfound skills and his merry band of misfits at his side, Robbie searches for redemption in the world of fine Scottish whisky.
But don’t think this is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with kilts. The film pivots around Robbie not as a drunken mad man, but as a recipient of hard luck trying to break free from his hoodlum past. Paul Brannigan portrays Robbie in a stoic and serious manner, giving us an emotional pivot when things get a little gross or a little hilarious. Robbie’s hard yet soft demeanor provides a believable and easy to root for protagonist, nice when surrounded by a colorful supporting cast. The band of misfits Robbie hangs with include Mo, a sticky fingered shoplifter, Rhino, the most supportive of the group and Albert, a complete moron with giant ears. Despite their obvious roles in the plot, the actors all give it a strong go in their respective roles, creating an odd but endearing family.
Loach, director of almost 40 films nobody has heard of, directs the film with care and control. According to a dear friend of mine who grew up in Scotland, Glasgow is a dangerous place and Loach perfectly paints that picture in a tense opening third. But when the movie opens to the hills of the highlands, the tone relaxes, even as the team hatches a hard to believe plan. I’ll spare you the specifics in case you want to catch it yourself.
The film also has a very authentic feel to it. From the accents to the locations to the slang used by the gang, the movie uses the country as a character. This helps support the sometimes outlandish scenarios and schemes by providing a realistic anchor to the story and the comedy. Oh yeah. Regine wanted a comedy and the film absolutely delivers, especially if you’re a fan of the dryer variety. Albert is the source and butt of most of the jokes, but his light hearted demeanor never makes the humor come off mean. And, just in case the prospect of Trainspotting style accents has you worried, the film is being released in the US with subtitles. While they do ruin the timing of some of the jokes, the subtitles didn’t bother me in the least.
As I mentioned in my previous review, the end of April / early May is a time for the great bloodletting of American cinemas with the intention of clearing the way for the big boys. Like The Place Beyond the Pines earlier this month, another gem has emerged from the dirty coal mines of springtime cinema. With subtle humor, great characterization and a giant helping of heart, The Angel’s Share is a lovely time at the cinema, regardless if you’re looking for something funny or not.
Score – 85%