The Angel's Share marks the 12th film that he has directed with the accompaniment of writer, Peter Laverty; a fruitful partnership that started back with Carla's Song (1996). Sharing more in common with the lighthearted and breezy (for Loach) Looking for Eric (2009) than the subsequent Route Irish (2010), there is room for plenty of laughs with this particular band of merry brothers (and sister).
Opening with the sentencing of a number of delinquents to community service, the focus falls on young Robbie (Paul Brannigan), a ne'er do well who represents the latest in a long line of rogues born from his family's gene pool. With history seemingly set to repeat itself, and feuds with neighbouring families falling from one generation to the next, Robbie needs to break the cycle. If not for him, then for the child that is on its way. In a bitter twist, his pregnant girlfriend is the daughter of a rival family who do not look upon his presence kindly.
Under the tutelage of community service officer, Harry (a reliably solid John Henshaw), Robbie is not only able to fulfill his civic obligation, but he is also able to strike upon a previously unforeseen nasal talent, which offers a potential 'out' through the whiskey trade. To say anything else would be a spoiler. Suffice to say, somewhere along the line a plan is hatched.
Where the first half of this film offers a sombre, grimy look at Glasgow and the push and pull of family ties and tensions, the second half takes a far lighter tone. The first half is the more effective and compelling. In one scene, a meeting is set up where Robbie is confronted with the victim of his crime. Interspersed with flashbacks to the horrific violence that formed the basis of Robbie's conviction in time past, the effect is shocking. Loach has stated that he didn't want the flashbacks to be put in slow motion. He felt that this would diminish the brutality. He wanted to showcase the violence in real time. He wanted it to be visceral. He has succeeded. In fact, at first, the film struggles to recover from the power of this scene. The pace of the script counters this by flushing the narrative forward. It excels in doing so. There is a contagious bonhomie with all of the main characters, and the script has enough brio and warmth to engage the viewer. A minor quibble would be that the well performed Albert (Gary Maitland) suspends belief a little too far as a personality type, cast as he is in the idiot savant role. Still, there is certainly enough here for both emotional investment and a good few chuckles along the way.
The only section that could be accused of dragging is the main set-piece involving the heist. This is perhaps an unfair criticism, however, as the film has to unavoidably subscribe to genre conventions at this point. The screenplay does its job well in enabling the film to zip by without too much damage being done.
As a non-professional actor plucked from obscurity, Paul Brannigan's performance is outstanding, and he certainly stands to gain the most from this film's success. He is a natural, bringing both a strength and a vulnerability to Robbie.
In some quarters, this film has been referred to as being a Scottish Full Monty. This does not necessarily do either film any real service. It is true that both are heartwarming and feature the working class. This is not enough to lump them in as the equivalent of each other though.