A bunch of low-life Scots decide to turn their lives around by nicking a few bottles of a uniquely rare
winewhiskey in The Angel’s Share, a caper movie that’s really not at all like an American caper flick.
Oh, also awesome: The movie’s language is Scottish, with English subtitles. You know 90% of the words but can only make about 15% of them out.
Director Ken Loach (The Wind That Shakes The Barley) gives us a tale of a violent young man, Robbie, who starts the movie narrowly avoiding a lengthy prison sentence, with the clear message that even the slightest violation will send him back to jail (even though the judge concedes he didn’t instigate the violence). Since Robbie’s about to be a dad for the first time, he’s gotten serious about going straight.
Problem is, the people he was defending himself from before still want him dead. Oh, and they work for his father-in-law. (Or his baby mama’s dad, I’m not quite sure if they’re married.)
Just to add another wrinkle, we are forced to confront a chapter of our hero’s violent past, and it is seriously violent. However reformed Robbie is now, he was a menace at some point.
So, quite far from the sassy, suave, lovable rogue a la Clooney, the director gives us a taste of what this young thug was like and dares us to like him and root for him anyway. Which, of course, we do because it’s a movie and he can be handsome and brilliant and clever and good-hearted as well as a reformed thug.
(Yes, if I think about it for very long, I do have some mixed feelings, not the least of which are that this movie probably expects you to think about it, and societal privilege and what not. In the end, it’s still a caper movie—just a grittier one than we’re used to.)
The lad’s break comes in the form of an avuncular supervisor named Harry who runs his “payback” (community service) program. Harry takes a shine to Robbie, and introduces him to the art of hard whiskey appreciation. I don’t mean he gets him drinking, but takes him on a tour of a distillery.
Anyway, it is on this tour that they learn about the “angel’s share”, the small amount of whisky lost to evaporation, and also about a recently discovered, last-bottle-ever of booze, said to be worth as much as one million dollars.
The movie does a good job on making you care about and root for the characters, and we all enjoyed it. I think I felt the conceit of having such a violent lead character and gritty surroundings was sort of belied by a certain neatness to how things turned out. And it was crime, even if it was only committed against an American.
Thank God for subtitles, though.