Cannes Check: Ken Loach's 'The Angels' Share'
The director: Ken Loach (British, 75 years old)
The talent: As is often the case with Loach films, the cast is a jumble of fresh faces and old hands from British film and television. Making his screen debut in the lead is 24 year-old Scotsman Paul Brannigan, whom we'll also see later this year in Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin." Heading up the support is veteran English comic actor Roger Allam (recently seen in "The Iron Lady" and "Tamara Drewe"), who previously worked with Loach on 2006's "The Wind That Shakes the Barley." Other Loach associates on board include bulldog-faced character actor John Henshaw (for many the standout of 2009's "Looking for Eric") and young Glaswegian William Ruane ("Sweet Sixteen," "Tickets," "Barley").
On script duty, of course, is Paul Laverty, who has written all but one of Loach's narrative films since 1996's "Carla's Song," winning the Best Screenplay award at Cannes in 2002 for "Sweet Sixteen." Loach's regular producer Rebecca O'Brien is also on board. Below the line, the presence of Robbie Ryan, whose work for Andrea Arnold (most dazzlingly on "Wuthering Heights") has made him one of the most exciting cinematographers in the business, adds interest. Still, given that Loach's two most recent, rather pedestrian-looking features were shot by Barry Ackroyd and Chris Menges, respectively, don't get your hopes up for a visual feast.
The pitch: While remaining under his umbrella of social realism, Loach's recent work has shuffled between earnest political tracts and lightweight working-class comedy. "The Angels' Share" (a title bound to test many subeditors' apostrophe awareness, so yay for that) falls into the latter bracket, last joined by "Looking for Eric" -- and like that film, appears to be something of a male-bonding story. Brannigan plays Robbie, a ne-er-do-well and petty criminal who, after narrowly escaping jail and becoming a father, vows to change his ways. With the help of three friends made while performing community service, he sets about what any young man looking to go on the straight and narrow would do: opening a whisky distillery. Loachian hilarity presumably ensues.
The pedigree: With "The Angels' Share" marking his eleventh appearance in the Cannes competition, Loach extends his record as the festival's most-selected filmmaker -- he's also the lone Brit in the lineup. Given that his last few entries didn't exactly set the Croisette alight (remember "Route Irish" two years ago? No?), you could be forgiven for wondering just what dirt he has on Thierry Fremaux, but it's only six years since he (finally, after numerous consolatory jury prizes) won the Palme d'Or for "The Wind That Shakes the Barley." Even that, however, wasn't a wildly popular choice: Loach has Cannes pedigree to spare, but his routine presence in the lineup has taken on something of a medicinal quality for many festivalgoers.
The buzz: As stated above, a new Ken Loach joint doesn't tend to arouse much excitement these days, though they tend to be politely received. In this case, the cat's already out the bag the some extent: the film has already screened for UK critics, and while I haven't seen it myself, the lukewarm reactions of several trusted colleagues suggest we shouldn't expect a radical spike in the director's form.
The odds: Given everything we know of the project, you'd have to put Loach near the back of the pack. His 2006 Palme d'Or was already something of a lifetime achievement award (and came, incidentally, two years after the festival's Ecumenical Jury gave him an undisguised career honor), so there'd be little reason to give him another unless the new film was something spectacular -- which, we have every reason to believe, it isn't. Still, that's not to write off the possibility of the film receiving some sort of smaller award, perhaps (again) for Laverty's screenplay -- jury president Nanni Moretti is nothing if not sympathetic to small-scale human comedies. After all, "nice" films are the ones that benefit most from divided juries.
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