Dead Man's Shoes, Dir. Shane Meadows

Film Four

Starring: Paddy Considine, Tony Kebbell, Gary Stretch

Reviewed by Djibril

This grim, dirty revenge drama, co-written by Considine and director Meadows, combines gritty realism, very dark humour and flashes of surrealism. Considine stars as the seemingly unstoppable, almost super-human Rich, an ex-soldier out for revenge against the gang of petty drug dealers who used to torment and abuse his special-needs brother (Kebbell). The gang are led by the dangerous Sonny (Stretch—the former boxer is on excellent acting form), a twisted, sadistic thug with a short fuse, who obsessively controls all those around him.

The background to the movie is a grimly realistic take on the lives of bored, deprived, rural youth in a small English town (the film was shot in the village of Matlock in Derbyshire). The drabness of deserted streets is contrasted with the craggy beauty of rocky hillsides and disused farm buildings. The antics of the losers add an element of comedy to the story, as they immerse themselves in drugs, alcohol, and pornography, as they swagger behind Sonny, their leader never far from violent outburst. But the gang are out of their depths, and their foolish horror is as amusing as their bumbling efforts—even when they start to die one by one.

But the real protagonist is Considine's surreal character Rich who moves and kills like a shadow. Rich comes and goes through locked doors, silent and unobserved; he fearlessly faces his foes in public, flashing from swaggering, urbane bravado to terrifying rage in an instant. Rich appears at a dark window wearing fatigues and a gas mask; his opening words in the movie are, "God will forgive them. I can't live with that." But he is tender towards the brother who looks up to and relies on him.

The film is shot in a mixture of present-tense action, snips of home video from Rich and his brother's childhood, and flashbacks in black and white, with blurred corners and indistinct passage of time to reflect drug-influenced experiences. Real and supernatural phenomena are mixed just as readily, and the viewer has no way to disentangle the two. As the cinematic audience, we are made to relate to the merciless, vengeful killer, even when it becomes clear his punishment is out of proportion to the crime. By the end, we don't know what to think or what outcome we would like to see.

Just as in real life, there are no easy answers, no black-and-white morality, no inescapable justice to make everything all right. An audience who like the politically correct posturing and platitudinous moralising of the Bruckheimers and Spielbergs of this industry may find this film challenging; those with more discerning tastes and realistic philosophies may enjoy one of the better films of the year.

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