Angels’ Share shows a group of Glasgow’s young offenders spiralling into nowhere and then it adds hope – urgent, illogical hope.
This ninety minute diamond of a film has an age-restriction of 15, on-your-nose violence, and great publicity for whisky and Irn-Bru. In the midst of it all it brings home the meaning of muscular compassion and it feels real.
Angels’ Share was first shown in cinemas in the UK in June of this year and came out on DVD in September. The DVD, directed by Ken Loach and with screenplay by former Scottish lawyer Paul Laverty, is half the price of a bottle of whisky and its effect will last far longer.
The lead, Robbie, is played by Paul Brannigan who in real life is struggling to free himself from the gangs and violence Loach wants viewers to see. Brannigan’s parents were heroin addicts, he left school at 14, spent from age 17 to 20 in jail, and the scar on his face is real – picked up in a fight with his brother.
We meet him/Robbie in court alongside other young offenders who are receiving community sentences. Most offences are petty apart from Robbie’s -grievous bodily harm. He only avoids a jail-term thanks to his girlfriend’s pregnancy but is then left to face the feuding and hatred of his estate.
The film would be bleak and brutal if it weren’t for Harry, the community service supervisor played by John Henshaw. Harry’s solid generosity is the best chance, maybe the first chance, most of the offenders have had. It is Harry who arranges a trip to a distillery for them all unwittingly introducing the youngsters to the possibilities of whisky and linking the four lead young offenders together: Robbie, Rhino (William Ruane), Mo (Jasmin Riggins) and Albert (Gary Maitland).
The story, even after the distillery visit, rams Robbie into violent dead-ends and the temptation would be to give up on him there if it weren’t for his friends and the attention-demanding Glaswegian banter. This forced linguistic focus builds empathy for the muddling team. Jokes and the speed of the sequences tumble from fright to laughter, from the point of retching to the impossible world of fine whisky.
The script is skilfully paced and held together brilliantly by a compelling, and carefully directed cast. The minor characters fit their roles almost as completely as the leads. In the restorative justice scene Robbie is taken to meet his victim’s family. The plain room fills utterly with shame as the victim (Roderick Cowie) relives the night Robbie attacked him.
This scene highlights conflict and its consequences and is made more intense by the context already shown. As with the rest of the film it brings to life the dimensions of joblessness, the gap between the unemployed and the rich, and it asks the viewer to understand and to give – not with a guarantee of success but in the hope of a miracle.
Men in Black II was “worth the popcorn” for inventiveness.
Angels’ Share is “best seat in the house” and you won’t need the popcorn.