By Vinnie Lione-Napoli
Arts & Entertainment Co-Editor
Upon being left in a barrel to age, a miniscule portion of any batch of distilled spirit will inevitably be lost to the air. While a realist would detail out the science behind evaporation processes, an idealist might tell you that angels grabbed their share.
This concept of an “angels’ share” provides a surprising amount of fuel for director Ken Loach’s 2012 film.
Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, “The Angels’ Share” weaves the tale of a young, hapless Scot determined to transition from his criminal tendencies to an honest, respectable life.
Robbie, the down-on-his-luck protagonist, narrowly avoids a court-ordered prison sentence in the opening scenes of the film.
Instead, he must log 300 hours of community service in order to settle his debt with society and enjoy life with Leonie and his infant son, Luke.
As he nears his breaking point with his family’s violent rivals and Leonie’s disapproving relatives, Robbie finds a friend in Harry, the warm-hearted man leading the community service group.
Harry introduces Robbie to the wonderful world of whiskey following Luke’s birth, a world in which the first-time father quickly engrosses himself.
Following a tour of a distillery, Robbie effortlessly displays a talent for identifying specific whiskeys by scent and taste. Subsequent exposures to whiskey, including a fancy tasting event in Edinburgh, further prove his knack for identifying these alcoholic beverages.
Upon hearing about a priceless whiskey prepared to go on auction in the Scottish Highlands, Robbie and three friends from his group decide to make the trip to procure a few bottles’ worth.
By manually extracting their own angels’ shares, they could sell the rare whiskey and better their lives.
Almost amazingly, there’s little reason to root against the four underdogs as they proceed with their unethical quest. A strong urge to see Robbie pull his life together combined with the pompous culture surrounding the auction site allows preconceptions of morality to be temporarily washed away, providing viewers with an opportunity to root for the petty thieves.
Scent as a motif floods each scene, complimenting the magnificent Scottish scenery almost like a perfume. Nearly all glasses of whiskey on screen have their contents sniffed before being emptied down a connoisseur’s throat. Characters repeatedly comment on how oaky or peaty certain whiskeys are with a degree of grandeur typical of a high-class taste tester.
There’s nothing high-class about Robbie and his three pals, however. While Robbie is able to consume whiskey with sophistication and appreciation, his friends are more interested in the effects of alcohol and the prospect of riches. Despite their more selfish aspirations, they all clearly value Robbie’s friendship and want the best for him and his family.
What makes “The Angels’ Share” so wonderful are these touching interactions between the characters that seem heartless at first glance. For instance, after Robbie is attacked by Leonie’s relatives in a hospital, Harry offers him solace. The ending in particular is quite sentimental, almost comparing Harry to Robin Williams’ character in “Good Will Hunting” as he receives and reads a heartwarming note left by Robbie.
The camaraderie displayed by the quartet also brings considerable laughs to the table. One notable pair of scenes involves one of the characters not quite knowing who Mona Lisa was just before he struggles his way up a steep hill in a kilt.
This satisfying blend of heart and comedy packed into one whiskey-soaked romp through Scotland, “The Angels’ Share” is a refreshing film containing genuinely interesting characters with genuinely interesting backstories.
While the film is hardly damaged by such an inclusion, the fact that the movie contains English subtitles is worth noting. Because the characters speak with such a thick Scottish accent, their words are oftentimes quite hard to comprehend.
“The Angels’ Share” will see a much-deserved wider release in theaters tomorrow. Those searching for their share of cinematic treasure should look no further than this piece of gold that evaporated from Cannes last year.