Who knew whisky was the answer to all life's troubles? Walk into any bar and there'll be a hardened alcoholic keen to prove the theory. But in the case of Ken Loach's latest mellow comedy drama, it's the monetary value of a rare blend that promises to turn a young thug's life around.
It's less whimsical than Looking for Eric, with Scottish newcomer Paul Brannigan bringing a rough edge to the part of Robbie, a ne'er-do-well from a Glasgow council estate. His girlfriend gives birth to his first child just as he's brought to court on a charge of GBH. Of course, one look into his baby's eyes is enough to alter his course, though not in the way the judge might have hoped for.
Robbie performs community service under the supervision of an uncle-like John Henshaw with fellow rag-tags Rhino (William Ruane), dopey Albert (Gary Maitland) and punky chick Mo (Jasmin Riggins). It's on an away-day tasting whisky where Robbie discovers that he has a discriminating palette. This could be a bright new beginning, but instead he reverts to criminal type.
The gang executes the job with endearing amateurism and a cheeky glint in the eye, but this is still a Ken Loach film and there is a socioeconomic point to be made about the fair distribution of wealth. Still, whatever that point is, it seems to have gotten lost in the alcoholic fug.
You can't help rooting for Robbie, but it's not because Brannigan is spilling over with charisma. He's an inexperienced actor (one of Loach's finds) who delivers a straightforward performance. You only feel for him because he's downtrodden and that's patronising enough, but then Loach appears to celebrate his criminality, because it's only the wealthy who are left short-changed.
If this were a genre movie, it wouldn't matter, but Loach asks us to look more deeply at what motivates Robbie then proceeds to undermine our faith in him. A powerful scene where he is forced to confront the victim of his crime creates a need for redemption that goes unfulfilled.
To his credit, Loach doesn't shy away from the violence, but it creates greater imbalance later on when he tries to paint Robbie as a loveable rogue. Of course the heist doesn't all go Robbie's way, with unexpected thrills and, yes, spills to deal with. Still, the caper is a bit too jolly. Like a fine malt, it goes down easy but soon after, that warm rush is replaced by pangs of regret.