A poor homage to the Whisky Galore! from Ken Loach that's over-reliant on Irn-Bru and kilts.
The economy is in meltdown, unemployment is rising, public sector cuts are executed without mercy – give the PM a pearl necklace and it’s Thatcher’s Britain all over again. So where’s the nation’s foremost firebrand and social realist when you need him? Making cosy heist films, apparently.
Father-to-be Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is a regular in Glasgow’s criminal courts. When he’s sentenced to community service for the latest offence, he’s assigned to a group led by Harry (John Henshaw), a generous soul with a passion for fine whisky.
Harry takes Robbie and the rest of the self-described 'NEDS' on an unofficial day trip to a distillery, where he hopes to expand their cultural horizons. They decide instead to stage a robbery, the proceeds of which Robbie will use to provide for his young family.
Paul Brannigan was plucked from the world which the film describes – and has the scars to prove it – so there’s no doubting his authenticity. The problem is he’s so authentically hard- faced, he lacks the expressiveness necessary to win an audience over. A detailed flashback to a particularly thuggish crime doesn’t help this likeability issue – Robbie may be the one underdog in the history of cinema you won’t find yourself rooting for.
If The Angels’ Share was a film which steadfastly resisted sentiment, that wouldn’t matter much, but as its whimsical title hints, Ken Loach is hoping to sprinkle some of the same Capra-esque fairy dust that made his 2009 film, Looking for Eric, such an unexpected joy.
Paul Laverty’s script cuts a lot of corners to deliver our hero from the depths of hopelessness to a happy ending. Kindly relatives are on hand with luxurious rent-free accommodation, corruptible whisky connoisseurs turn up at just the opportune moment, and the police are all conveniently dense.
Without the finesse of a Hollywood heist to smooth them over, however, these wrinkles in credibility remain irritatingly obvious. You don’t expect acrobatics over infra-red security beams in a Loach film, but some display of dexterity in the robbery itself would have been both entertaining and logical. Instead, Loach has washed his social realist credibility down the plughole and failed to compensate with charm, leaving only the sediment – petty crime, grey skies and grubby council flats – like a ring of grime round the bathtub.
A bigger disappointment is the misfired humour. As fans know, the director’s best work is marked by those natural comic moments that arise from his improvisational methods – the football pitch scene in Kes, the building site banter in Riff-Raff.
Here the jokes seem stale, over-reliant on Irn-Bru and kilts, and often at the expense of the same Scottish working classes they’re supposed to be giving a voice to. All of which makes for a rather poor homage to the Whisky Galore! spirit of genial subversion.
Whisky Galore! meets Oceans 11? Should be a giggle.
Mildly diverting, but undeniably disappointing.
The time is ripe for a great Ken Loach film. If only Ken Loach was up for making one.