Whisky Advocate

Review: The Angel’s Share (The movie, that is)

May 25th, 2012

Today, Whisky Advocate contributor Ian Buxton joins us with a review of The Angel’s Share. The film will open in the UK on June 1st. (To view the trailer, click on the link below.)

Veteran left-wing British film maker Ken Loach is known for his uncompromising approach and the gritty reality of working lives presented in his movies. So it’s no surprise that the opening scenes of his latest offering, The Angel’s Share, feature a court appearance by the main character; some less than appealing images of Glasgow’s decaying housing projects and an unhealthy dose of casual violence, not to mention liberal and fluent use of the F-word. We might expect whisky to be presented in a wholly negative context, responsible for all kinds of societal ills.

Instead whisky is here the surprising agent of the redemption of Robbie, a Glasgow tearaway with a criminal record, but determined to better himself and find a new life for his pregnant girlfriend, Leonie. Sentenced to a period of community service he discovers whisky through his ‘angel’ of a supervisor, Harry, only to find he has a nose of unusual sensitivity and discrimination. Learning of the forthcoming auction of a genuine cask of Maltmill (in the auction scene it sells for more than $1.5 million, as indeed such a treasure might in reality) he contrives to acquire some bottles — unlabelled, of course. Selling one to the devious agent of a shadowy and unscrupulous collector (are there such people?) secures him a job at a distillery and funds a fresh start for Robbie and his new family.

Whisky fans will be delighted to see their favorite tipple center and front, with tourist board scenes shot at Glengoyne, Deanston, and Balblair, not to mention a convincing performance by Charlie Maclean as the ‘whisky expert’ — though largely all he does is play himself!

Viewed in the context of Loach’s previous work, The Angel’s Share may appear flawed and morally suspect (Robbie embarks on further crime to escape his life of crime), but most movie-goers will accept it at face value as a feel-good cross between a rom-com and a heist caper and leave the theatre smiling.

Like a pleasant, well-made blend, The Angel’s Share pleases in an undemanding way. It lifts the spirits without challenging the intellect and can safely be shared with even your vodka-drinking friends!

No Responses to “Review: The Angel’s Share (The movie, that is)”

  1. Jason Beatty says:

    Can’t wait to see this one as I am a fan of his work. Studied French cinema in Paris and it’s nice to see such a review up here. I’m not sure if I’ll consider it flawed as I bet it was made that way on purpose.

  2. Keith Sexton says:

    Can’t wait! But according to IMDB, America was not listed as a country where it’s scheduled for release, which sucks. But I’ll be sure to see it on DVD.

  3. Ian Buxton says:

    First the good news: I understand it has been well received at Cannes and that a US distribution deal is under discussion, though I’d expect this to be for the art house circuit not your local multiplex!
    As for the flaw at the heart of the movie I contend that the proposition of redemption from crime via the commitment of further crime (though the ‘cop out’ is that it is “victimless”) is a morally bankrupt position.
    Though I could, of course, be over-analysing the thing.
    Maybe it’s just a harmless bit of fluff (only joking).

    • Keith Sexton says:

      On Netflix (internet movie streaming service here in the U.S.), you can already reserve this movie in your queue. So, I suppose it will be available here. I’ve been waiting for a film like this for a long time, can’t wait.

  4. Ian Buxton says:

    Latest news – Sunday 27 May – is that it won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Festival, which I guess increases the chances of a US distribution deal.

  5. Scott MacKenzie says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing this film. With a Cannes Jury Prize, it should at least get limited distribution in the US. Most cities big enough for art house theaters should get it. I’m in St. louis, so that should qualify, but if distribution is very limited, Chicago isn’t that far!

    I’m not sure how the character of Robbie doing more crime, might be considered a flaw, when movies like “The Italian Job”, and the “Oceans Trilogy” have similar moral issues that their audiences accept. People seem to like a good caper movie! The never ending “Fast & Furious” film franchise, proves a caper movie doesn’t even have to be that good to be popular! Yeah, I went there!

    It sounds to me like this is Scotland’s whisky version of “Sideways” or “Bottle Shock”, with a caper twist in the plot line to keep things interesting. I can’t wait to see it!

  6. Ian Buxton says:

    Scott, if this were just a piece of Hollywood fluff, fodder for the multiplexes and Friday night light entertainment, then I’d agree with you. But this is from Ken Loach (and writer Paul Laverty) so comes with ‘messages’, ‘significance’ and an ‘agenda’ and their demands that we take it seriously, while also laughing at the comedy. If that’s the case it has to meet a higher standard of critical analysis. So, while I enjoyed it (and I did, and you will) I believe it is morally flawed and this presents a problem for critical appreciation of the movie.
    I’ve actually written a much longer and more analytical piece about the film for a European whisky magazine discussing these issues and my concerns at greater length but that hasn’t appeared yet so I can’t post it here. If the discussion is still live when the piece runs (and anyone cares and is interested) I’ll be happy to share it.

  7. Henry says:

    Morally suspect? Morally bankrupt? I doubt Ken Loach gives a crap about “morals,” yet his concern with *ethics* amid the horrors of capitalism is demonstrated again and again in his films. I find it at once hilarious and sad that Ian Buxton misses by a mile in this regard in his review of this film.

    Despite his dismissal of the film as undemanding fluff, it seems that our reviewer was indeed intellectually challenged–and found wanting.

  8. Ian Buxton says:

    A more profound misunderstanding of my review it would be hard to find, unless one set out to deliberately misrepresent my position on this film. Precisely because it is NOT undemanding fluff and because of Loach’s overt campaigning agenda the work has to stand up to more detailed analysis.
    And it doesn’t, because I fail to see how you can argue for redemption from crime through the commission of a further crime, however engagingly presented and amusingly undertaken. As entertainment it’s fine; as political rhetoric it couldn’t cut it in a high school debate.
    See it and then comment.

    • Henry says:

      I would not want to deliberately misrepresent your position, and I will indeed see the film. I can easily imagine redemption based on committing what might be construed by capitalist discourse and law as criminal acts. But I will reserve full judgment on this particular representation of same until I see the film.

      That said, I doubt Loach sees this particular theft of spirits as a crime. I have little doubt that any substantive discussion of the ethics on display in the film will turn on this point.

      • Ian Buxton says:

        Hi Henry, I don’t know about “capitalist discourse and law” but theft is generally regarded as theft under any system of jurisprudence I can think of, incuding socialism. You are quite correct in your supposition: Loach presents this as a victimless crime and essentially harmless. That’s my point. In the interests of entertainment (and it is an entertaining movie) we’re required to accept the concept of victimless crime. Now, even if one accepted that for a moment (which I don’t), it is still a crime, victim or no, and the difficulty remains that Robbie’s new life has been founded on an immoral and criminal act. And I maintain that that represents a problem in sustained critical analysis and thus devalues the message.
        Loach insists we take his films seriously; well, that’s what I’m doing.
        If we take Loach’s position to its conclusion what he is saying is that the end justifies the means – and that’s a proposition that has got the world into many avoidable difficuties throughout history. Ian

        • Henry says:

          Yes, of course, it was clear that you were arguing from the position of the state and its systems of jurisprudence, which exist to protect property rights (among other impositions of disparity through state violence), whether capitalist or an even more central-bureaucratic state counterpart. Though they are in the minority these days, many people don’t use the law to determine their ethics, knowing as they do that the law mainly serves the interests of capital and state bureaucracy.

          (Please don’t misunderstand me: I am well aware that much of established law works as decent ethics, as well.)

          Once again, I imagine Ken Loach has gone well beyond believing that theft of private property presents any ethical problem. Here one would want to make the critical distinction between private and personal property, as I have little doubt Loach does.

          If I am even close to correct about Loach’s perspective, this perspective obviates any discussion of means vs. ends, since there is no wrong committed. That said, it would be difficult to disagree with your last sentence above, describing as it does the horrific approach to internal and external affairs taken by nation states throughout history.

          It’s easy to see from this exchange that our positions are much too far apart for any resolution. You see any theft as wrong; I find that position to be rigid and unsupportable. Please have the last word. I look forward to seeing the film.

          • Ian Buxton says:

            Neat rhetorical device there: “Please have the last word” while deftly securing it yourself!
            Nice one. I shall remember that and use it myself.
            We agree to disagree. Enjoy the movie.

          • Red_Arremer says:

            Redemption through stealing whisky– The problem with the formula isn’t the stolen whisky, but the redeemed subject. All redemption narratives are fundamentally ideological. They obscure the experience of suffering by making it a prologue to self-establishment. Of course, suffering’s not the prologue to anything. But then again, neither is great whisky, though I’d take it over (or in place of) suffering any day.

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