Friday, April 26, 2013

The Angel's Share -- whisky movie opens in Philly today

Talk "whisky movie" and people turn blank. Maybe Thunder Road, or if they're Scottish, Whisky Galore, or if you're a real film fanatic, the Uruguayan Whisky (which is not actually about whisky...) but whisky has not been a popular topic for films.

Which is why The Angel's Share is such a delight for a whisky drinker. Usually it takes a few failures for filmmakers to get the feel of a genre right (look at how many dopey tries they took at Batman before Heath Ledger licked his lips to perfection), but this? Bang, first pour, right out of the bottle. There's a real distillery (three of them, actually: Balblair, Deanston, and Glengoyne), real whiskies (Robbie, the main character, guesses Glenfarclas on a blind tasting; it's a Cragganmore), real tasting (nosing, Glencairn glasses, picking apart aroma/flavor notes), and a real whisky expert, Charlie MacLean, who does a great job in a supporting role as "Rory McAlister", essentially playing his own affable, greatly knowledgeable self. But the whisky star of the movie is a cask of Malt Mill, a real unicorn of whisky, from an Islay distillery that closed in 1962 and was never bottled as a single malt. If there's anything that would open the eyes of a whisky fancier...that's it.

Charlie MacLean (left) leads a tasting that includes Harry and Robbie (far right).
So, that's the whisky part, which is well-done. The film part that kept my family watching through our preview is a gritty tale of redemption through whisky...and crime. Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is a Glasgow scrapper, a vicious street thug, to be honest, but he's charmed Leonie (Siobhan Reilly), a gentler girl who manages to hold him through her pregnancy and presents him with a son. But even in the hospital, he's jumped by old enemies who seem determined to drag him back into the pit with them. He runs, and evades them, and returns to his 300 hours of public service to pay off his crimes.

That's where he's met Harry (John Henshaw), the work trainer who sees the best in his charges. Harry's patience and love for Scotch whisky eventually leads to a weekend trip for Paul and three of his public service mates (Rhino, Albert, and the light-fingered Mo) to visit Deanston distillery for a tour. Robbie discovers he has a nose, and a growing love for the the best of whisky. Harry takes him on, and they go to a tasting hosted by Rory, where the plot suddenly develops: the cask of Malt Mill is to be auctioned off, and Robbie hatches a plot to steal enough to give he and his friends enough to get out of the pit.
Mo, Albert, Robbie, and Rhino: ready for the Highlands

The ensuing caper is grueling (imagine walking miles in a kilt when you're not...pre-chafed), funny (the French tourist letting the young Scotsman know his kilt's on backwards), disgusting (whisky decanted into Irn Bru bottles), and expanding (as the urban Scots encounter the Highlands). But it is Robbie's path to adult responsibility, and his growth into a serious, sober father is charming.

The scenery in the film is great, the whisky chat is spot-on. The rage and violence in the beginning is shocking (there's a lot of f-bombing, but it wears off quickly), but Robbie's grief when confronted by the results of what he's done is genuine; he's been shocked too. He wants to change, to be a father to his son, a man for his new family...and whisky gives him the opportunity. Worth a look.

The Angel's Share won the 2012 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize. It was directed by Ken Loach (The Wind That Shakes the Barley). And it opens in Philadelphia today, at the Ritz Five.


Anonymous said...

I can wait for it to come to Redbox in July and pay $1 to see it.

Lew Bryson said...

Um...feel free. That's probably what I'd do too.

Steven said...

(whisky decanted into Irn Bru bottles)

Isn't that sort of oxymoronic? Ian Rankin has always told us that Irn Bru is the best cure for a hangover. ;)

Lew Bryson said...

It is at the very least a bit circular, right?