The caper comedy "The Angels' Share" may be the closest Ken Loach, the rabidly left-wing British filmmaker, has ever gotten to a mainstream Hollywood movie and that's a good thing and a bad thing.
The setup is pure Loach, as it depicts the squalid life of Robbie (Paul Brannigan), a poor Glasgow lad dealing with his latest scrape with the law and avoiding prison only because his girlfriend, Leonie (Siobhan Reilly), is about to give birth. Robbie looks destined for an early grave, beaten up either by Leonie's angry uncles or by a local rival and his mates. The only person on his side is Harry (John Henshaw), who supervises the lad's community service.
When Harry leads a field trip to a local whiskey distillery, Robbie discovers he has a nose for picking out fine liquors. Robbie also learns that a rare cask of whiskey is going up for auction, so he devises a plot to steal some of the golden liquid with the help of his fellow parolees.
That's where Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty (who's collaborated with Loach on several films, including "My Name Is Joe" and "The Wind That Shakes the Barley") shift into light comic farce, in the mode of the old Ealing Studios comedies (e.g. "The Ladykillers").
Loach even resorts to using the most overused Scottish song of the past 20 years, The Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)," an indication of how far out of his comfort zone he is. Even so, the story is loaded with droll humor, authentic touches of working-class life, and a sharp cast.
'The Angels' Share'
Opens Friday, May 17, not rated, but probably R for violence and language; in Scottish-accented English with subtitles; 101 minutes.