The Angel's Share. Directed by Ken Loach. Starring Paul Brannigan and John Henshaw.
Rating: 7 (out of 10)
CANADIAN tourists love to tour Scotland's "malt whisky trail," a line of distilleries that runs through Speyside. My spouse even claims to be laird of a square foot of the island of Islay, thanks to Laphroig Distillery's clever marketing gimmick.
But it isn't unusual for a young man from the wrong end of Glasgow to never have seen the highlands, and not know when his kilt is on back to front. Robbie (Paul Brannigan), from a long line of no-users, can't get a break because of a boyhood spent in and out of juvie and the telltale thug scar that runs through most of his cheek.
Robbie's latest violent scrape has earned him 300 hours of community service, and it's only impending fatherhood that's kept him from being locked up. He forms friendships with a busload of petty convicts supervised by Harry (John Henshaw). Harry proves a benevolent force, especially after witnessing Robbie get beat up outside the hospital delivery room by his girlfriend's family. It's Harry who gives Robbie his first taste of whisky, when the two men wet the baby's head, a traditional toast to a newborn.
After coming face to face with the victim of one of his more serious crimes, Robbie vows over his new son never to hurt anyone again. But a clean start is impossible when trouble follows Robbie all over the city.
On his day off, Harry takes his ragtag group to a distillery, where Robbie proves to have a canny nose for whisky grace notes. During another day trip Robbie meets Thaddeus (British stage actor Roger Allam), a whisky collector who will prove invaluable. There's this cask of booze - "the holy grail of whiskies" - that is about to go on the auction block, virtually unguarded overnight. Who can blame Robbie and company from skimming a little off the top, the angel's share of the title, that two per cent per year that magically disappears from a cask of whisky.
Authentic dialogue ("clatty" is filthy; "minging" is even worse) is admirable but necessitates subtitles, always a nuisance and best avoided. What needs no subtitles is the barrage of foul language: Local Hero this 'aint. Authentic? Probably, in a culture where George Carlin's Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television are common vernacular.
But necessary? No. It's distracting, more than anything else. Just don't take your granny.
Ken Loach (The Wind That Shakes The Barley) excels at tales featuring the downtrodden in his own continent, and it's admirable that he's never been lured over to ours. The distillation process serves as a nice metaphor for Robbie's own maturation process, and Loach quite accurately points out that a lad from Carntyne has slim chance against the establishment and the English. But he has also crafted the worst tourism ad for Glasgow since Trainspotting.
The morality may be murky (criminal relapse justified because the only people hurt are whisky snob millionaires), the language somewhat shocking, but Loach's underdogs win us over nonetheless, and just might win over new whisky lovers, to boot.