When we first meet the diminutive, scar-faced Robbie (Paul Brannigan), he’s standing before a Scottish judge who’s set to send him back to prison for brutally assaulting another thug. But with his first child on the way, Robbie’s given one last chance—an opportunity that’s immediately imperiled by a local kingpin. Yet the young man improbably develops a masterful knowledge of fine whiskey and, with the help of three fellow fuckups, plots a crazy scheme that could give them all a fair shot at a future.
For nearly half a century, Ken Loach has steadfastly chronicled the lives of Britain’s punters and dead-ended ruffians, offering poetic redemption from the capitalist systems that entrap them. Since 1996, he’s collaborated with genre-curious screenwriter Paul Laverty, who’s intriguingly—if unevenly—expanded the director’s horizons to include historical epics (The Wind That Shakes the Barley) and comic fantasies (Looking for Eric). Their most recent project atonally couples social realism with Highlander slapstick, schizophrenically swinging from bloody beatdowns to zippy heist-comedy shenanigans; there’s something particularly dismaying about the stately socialist cuing up the Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” twice within the film’s third act. (Unless he’s paying unlikely homage to Benny & Joon, in which case: Kudos?) Still, Loach coaxes an endearingly poised performance out of nonprofessional Brannigan, and largely sells these scuffling characters as neither hopeless nor heroic—just terribly human.
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