Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. United Kingdom/France/Belgium/Italy, 2012. Entertainment One, Sixteen Films, Why Not Productions, Wild Bunch, British Film Institute, Les Films Du Fleuve, Urania Pictures S.r.l.. Screenplay by Paul Laverty. Cinematography by Robbie Ryan. Produced by Rebecca O’Brien. Music by George Fenton. Production Design by Fergus Clegg. Costume Design by Carole K. Millar. Film Editing by Jonathan Morris. Cannes Film Festival 2012.
A group of petty thugs and criminals are sentenced to community service, among them a bright but beleaguered young man named Robbie, whose newborn baby inspires him to want to break the cycle of violence and neglect that he has lived with his whole life. Trouble follows Robbie everywhere until Harry, his community service supervisor, gives him a kind word and a friendly shot of whiskey, the young man’s first, which reveals Robbie to have an expert sensitivity for the stuff. Harry takes Robbie and three of his fellow parolees to Edinburgh where they attend an event at a whiskey distillery, and our scrappy hero gets a brilliant idea after meeting an agent for a mysterious whiskey collector: there’s a keg going on auction that will net an exorbitant amount of money, and if they get their hands on some of its contents they can sell it for enough money to solve all their problems. Ken Loach’s films tend to be fables or soap operas directed with the rigour and precision of documentaries, and this one does not disappoint on any count. The harshness of Robbie’s daily life is not shied away from, while his misdeeds are not treated with leniency either; grace and forgiveness are meted out in equal measure with frank criticism of both the ridiculously unkind world that these youngsters are born into, one in which they seem to be set up to fail from the beginning, along with the bad decisions that keep their vicious cycles perpetually in motion. Paul Brannigan, a first-time actor with a background not too dissimilar from the character he plays, is terrific in the lead role, while the fact that something positive and constructive is made out of one of the key issues that holds back life in Glasgow’s underserved communities (alcohol) is only one of the sweet ironies of this very satisfying and incredibly charming film.