Over the course of its first sixty minutes, Ken Loach's The Angels' Share proves a testament to its director's enduring reputation as a master of British cinema and the social-realist form, articulating the frustrations of Glasgow's working class with clarity and sophistication. Robbie (non-actor Paul Brannigan) is a brash ne'er-do-well and recent father who is endeavoring, quite in earnest, to abandon a life of crime in favor of much-needed stability. His quest for redemption through community service and a newfound interest in the world of whiskey — a matter of smelling and tasting rather than simply imbibing, of course — forms the heart of this story, which is told with humor and empathy. Loach, always attuned to the nuances of social problems both personal and systemic, negotiates the audacious tonal shifts with confident ease, oscillating from candid kitchen-sink drama (a flashback finds Robbie nearly beating a stranger to death in the street) to broad humor (fart jokes and kilt gags abound). But when The Angels' Share suddenly transforms, in its final act, into a kind of farcical heist picture, that fleeting slapstick tendency wins out, regrettably diminishing the film's social consciousness in the process. It's one of the strangest narrative pivots in recent memory, reducing what began as a smart film about class to a vacuous one about nothing much at all, implicitly trivializing its serious themes the moment it decides to abandon them.
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