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Generous spirit flows in crime-filled caper

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Former hoodlum Robbie (Paul Brannigan) discovers he has a nose for whisky  in Scottish film The Angels' Share.

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Former hoodlum Robbie (Paul Brannigan) discovers he has a nose for whisky in Scottish film The Angels' Share.

The "angels' share" of the title refers to the amount of Scotch whisky that predictably disappears in casks. The true culprit is evaporation, but you can trust Scottish wit to invoke tippling seraphim. Director Ken Loach likewise dances a fine line between mundane reality and fanciful fictionalizing with this tale of a young man eager to put his criminal past behind him when he becomes a father.

A former street hoodlum, Robbie (Paul Brannigan) wants to make amends for past misdeeds and steer clear of his thuggish associates for the sake of Leonie (Siobhan Reilly), the woman he loves, especially as she prepares to give birth.

But Robbie's unwillingness to back away from a fight has already landed him doing 300 hours of community service (the Scottish more bluntly refer to the program as "payback") under the stern but benevolent guidance of program honcho Harry (John Henshaw).

Harry recognizes Robbie as a lad sincere in his desire to go straight, but between threats by a lifelong rival and Leonie's own disapproving dad, his future in Glasgow looks bleak.

Robbie unexpectedly finds an opportunity for a way out when Harry introduces him to the world of whisky connoisseurship. At a tasting, Robbie proves to have a discerning nose for whisky, and when he and some of his fellow misfits in the payback program hear about the auction of a fabled lost cask of Malt Mill, he sees a way to finally escape the downward spiral.

Ken Loach is a 77-year-old social-realist filmmaker long celebrated for his sympathetic take on rough, working-class characters.

The Angels' Share certainly qualifies for that description, but in its third act, it also takes on the suspenseful properties of a heist thriller, albeit one in which the assembled team of thieves is hilariously under-qualified, including the nitwit Albert (Gary Maitland), the yahoo Rhino (William Ruane) and the compulsive klepto Mo (Jasmin Riggins).

Most filmmakers would trip over themselves making Robbie a nice, misunderstood hero, but Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty offer such dark shadings to the character most Hollywood filmmakers wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot Zac Efron. This is especially evident in a sequence in which Robbie is obliged to attend a court-ordered meeting with a young man he assaulted while in the psychotic depths of a cocaine binge.

Shame is a relatively rare attribute of most movie heroes. It's just not sexy.

That makes this hero all the more refreshing, as is the film, with its notes of earthy wit, its curiously potent suspense, and above all, its generous spirit.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 10, 2013 D3

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Updated on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 8:13 AM CDT: adds fact box, fixes headline

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