Even at age 76, veteran director Ken Loach has been able to stay in touch with his youth. In films such as Sweet Sixteen (2002) and the seminal Kes (1969), he tells highly relatable stories about young men on the brink, searching for meaning in a society that seems to have no use for them. Though The Angels' Share features a similarly hopeless protagonist, it features a much brighter ending for him.
Without giving too much away, let me just say that The Angels' Share, despite its bursts of violence, is an absolute delight. Loach and his frequent collaborator Paul Laverty give it a deft blend of comedy and drama, and the whole cast gives authentic performances.
Paul Brannigan plays Robbie, a violent drug addict who uses the judge's mercy and his new fatherhood to start on a better path. Instead of a lengthy jail sentence, Robbie is sentenced to 300 hours of community service. The head of the program (John Henshaw) looks after him, becoming his friend and teaching him the joys of whiskey, which must be sipped and enjoyed, instead of gulped like Robbie's preferred malt liquor.
Although Robbie appreciates life more, he still faces a rough life. An old school bully, upset that their last confrontation didn't result in Robbie's incarceration, is out for revenge. His father-in-law offers him a large sum of money to simply leave town and abandon his responsibilities. But with his fellow convicts, he forms a support system and matures into, if not a productive member of society, at least someone who can keep his self-destructive instincts at bay.
One of the many things I love about the film is how leisurely each scene plays out, with minimal editing. Characters in Loach films talk a lot but never to the point of irritation. Their conversations, however silly, always seem to have more heft than characters in American films. The Angels' Share is a movie you should seek out if for no other reason than nothing like it would ever be made in Hollywood.
I went in knowing nothing about The Angels' Share aside from its director and came out knowing I'd seen the best movie so far this year. If you love simple films about friendship and a spot of whiskey, I think you'll agree.