The Angels’ Share (2012)

Rated R. Our ratings: V -4; L -5; S/N -4. Running time: 1 hour 41 min.

For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
nor the hope of the poor perish for ever.
Psalm 9.18

Robbie, Leonie and their new baby.

2012 Sundance Selects

Director Ken Loach who has a Biblical bent in favoring the almost down and out sets his story in Glascow where Robbie (Paul Brannigan) barely escapes being thrown into prison when in a fight he viciously beat his opponent so badly that the man lost sight in one eye. However, the court lets off Robbie with a community service sentence because his girlfriend Leone ((Siobhan Reilly) is about to deliver their baby. Faced with her ultimatum that he goes straight or else—and also filled with a new tenderness when he first holds his tiny son—the hot-tempered young man vows to go stay out of trouble.

Through the grace of community service supervisor Harry (John Henshaw) Robbie discovers he has an unusual talent. During a field trip to a whisky distillery he finds that his nose can detect slight differences in the ingredients and thus identify vintage drink from the pedestrian. How he and his dead-end friends parley this gift into a way to change their lives (well, at least his) is a delightful tale. Their plan will remind one of another film in which a lowly group games the system Waking Ned Divine, which also has a morally murky conclusion. Indeed, the film reminds me of Jesus Parable about the dishonest steward (see Luke 16:1-9).

The film is often funny, but there is one especially serious scene in which Mr. Loach grounds it in reality. Part of the court’s sentence mandates that Robbie meet with face to face the victim he has injured, along with his family. Hollywood would probably have made this a touchy-feely reconciliation moment—one which we as people of faith might wish for, but this does not happen. The victim and family, believing that the court has been far too lenient with Robbie in light of the permanent injury he has inflicted, are not about to forgive. Instead they rave against him, their action quickly bringing the session to an end. Leonie is present, and she feels deeply ashamed of what her lover has done. Although she stays with Robbie, this scene will always haunt her.

Mr. Loach’s screenwriting partner Paul Laverty has produced a powerful script that easily moves between serious drama and humor, its ending perhaps being even whimsical. The film’s title comes from the term describing the small percentage of a brew that manages to evaporate from a keg, but maybe also it suggests that Robbie, despite his past that theatens to destroy him, is watched over by those even more gracious than his supervisor and mentor Harry.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. How did you feel about Robbie when you first met him? Did the film seem to be moving toward a conclusion in which one cannot escape the past? What are the strikes which threaten to knock Robbie out?

2, How is Harry a person (agent) of grace? What seems to be his otlook on life and people who have gone astray? How is this counter cultural, very similar to Jesus’ outlook on the down and out?

3, How is Leonie also a person of grace, especially evident after at the meeting with the victim she learns first hand what Robbie has done?

4. The film becomes one of those in which the little people game a system stacked against them: compare it to Waking Ned Divine or The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain.

5. How did you feel about the morality of the scheme Robbie concocts?