Ever since his ground-breaking television dramas of the '60s, such as Cathy Comes Home, Ken Loach has displayed a powerful concern for the vulnerable, economically disenfranchised members of society. Cinematic fashions come and go but Loach's commitment to his brand of political film-making has remained unswerving, as has his preference for a no-frills, naturalistic visual style.
Bread And Roses, unostentatiously photographed by Loach's regular collaborator Barry Ackroyd, is the first movie the director has made in the States. But filming in LA hasn't diluted his anger at social injustice. The David-versus-Goliath subject matter, which sees a group of poor immigrant workers struggle to gain basic union rights, is entirely in keeping with Loach's work.
The cleaners Rosa works with in the office block are ruthlessly exploited, paid disgustingly low hourly wages and denied any medical insurance. As a condition of starting work, Rosa is also forced to give up her first month's pay to her supervisor as a commission. Once the janitors begin to act collectively and mount protests, they risk both dismissal and deportation from America.
Yet Bread And Roses never scales the heights of Loach's finest films. Paul Laverty's script, with its awkward mix of melodrama and comedy, is simplistic in several of its key characterisations. Rosa's boss Perez (George Lopez) is irredeemable in his nastiness, blurting such offensive opinions as "this is a business, not a camp for spastics", while the clownish figure of Sam, the union organiser, is equally one-dimensional. A talented actor, Adrien Brody is miscast in this undernourished role, and his romance with Rosa feels half-hearted.
Far more convincing is the sibling relationship between Rosa and Maya, which reaches a blistering crescendo and reminds us how exhilarating and incendiary Loach's drama can be.
Loach goes to America, but the struggle continues as he exposes the plight of immigrant labour in LA. Heartfelt in its politics, but heavy-handed in its execution, Bread And Roses is involving despite some shallow characterisations and a miscast Brody.