You'll have to wait until it ends to see whether crime pays in Ken Loach's spirited caper The Angels' Share. But it's a testament to the veteran British filmmaker's wily ways - and to his strong social (and socialist) conscience - that you'll find yourself rooting for his band of underclass Glaswegians as they set out to pull off a most improbable heist.
More playful than we've come to expect from Loach (though even his most dead-earnest work can show biting humor), The Angels' Share begins in a Glasgow courtroom, where Robbie (Paul Brannigan), a young ex-con, narrowly escapes another prison sentence for his latest burst of violence. Instead, he must do community service, overseen by the big, and big-hearted, Harry (John Henshaw). Harry is a lover of whisky, it turns out, and after squiring his motley troop of ne'er-do-wells around town, cleaning up graveyards and repainting a community center, he takes them on a surprise visit to a distillery.
And it is there that Robbie, a keen lad and a new dad - his girlfriend, Leonie (Siobhan Reilly), has just become a mum - discovers a taste for whisky. Quite a refined taste, actually, as he picks out notes of this and hints of that, sniffing and sipping with a connoisseur's aplomb.
And when he hears about the auction of a rare cask of whisky, the Malt Mill, expected to bring a cool million or more, an idea is born. Robbie wants to turn over a new leaf, but no one wants to give him a job. His sorry cohorts on the community service crew - the drunken clown Albert (Gary Maitland), the punky klepto Mo (Jasmin Riggins) and the redheaded Rhino (William Ruane) - are similarly unemployed, and arguably unemployable. And so they hatch a plan, the cleverness of which surprises even themselves.
The Angels' Share - which comes subtitled, the better to follow the slangy burrs - is a lark, but it's a serious-minded lark, addressing issues of class and culture, the haves and have-nots. There's a powerful scene before Robbie and company head to the Highlands to carry out their scheme when he is required to meet with the victim of one of his crimes - a terrible beating that has left the man seated across from him with a list of injuries. As the victim recounts the attack, Robbie sits there, tearing up, determined never to hurt another person.
Can he do it? Can he and Leonie raise a child? Can that cask of Malt Mill be liberated from the elite snifter-swillers assembled in the Scottish countryside?
I recommend that you find out.
The Angels' Share ***1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Ken Loach. With Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, Gary Maitland, and Siobhan Reilly. In English (actually thick Scottish) with subtitles. Distributed by IFC Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 46 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (violence, profanity, adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Five.