When One Man's Passion For Justice Becomes An Obsession For Revenge
"Dead Man's Shoes"|
A film whose sole purpose is to follow the actions of an avenger, with no relief, no remorse, and no let-up, is difficult to recommend. Yet I'm obliged to do so by the mastery of the medium with which the story is related. But, take it as a warning that this material is only for those with an iron stomach for a menu of vicious retribution.
When Richard (Paddy Considine) left his Midlands village in Britain for a stint in the army he had no choice but to leave his retarded brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) to his own devices. The tragedy of that decision begins when Sonny (Gary Stretch), a street criminal and drug dealer with a gang of partners and minor idiots who depend on him for their livelihood take the poor boy in as an object of play and ridicule. Their abuse of a simple soul is beyond reprehensible and ends tragically.
Equally tragic for them are the consequences of their actions when Richard returns. He launches a campaign of terror as he proceeds to instill fear and foreboding with the methodology of a psychological terrorist before taking each miscreant out horrifically.
To the credit of the screenplay and performance, we side with him in his design for justice, however cruel, however gory. Richard is the cat playing with the mice, making certain they understand the reason for his punishment before they experience the full weight and permanence of it. But the device that ensures our sympathy for this stone killer are the flashbacks to what each one did or failed to do when they had his brother under their full control and subject to their abject nastiness.
It's a case of the bullies meeting their superior, and it contains all the fright elements of horror, suggestions of the supernatural, and social realism. Though the executioner takes his time and performs his duties unhuriedly and with the luxury of humorous banter, the sort that comes from ultimate control, the effect is evil meeting its match. Vigilante punishment of crimes the system will never see is something we tend to applaud.
Considine, so memorable for his kind-hearted father in Jim Sheridan's "In America" shows a very different side as he turns so far away from the comfort zone. He composes a dark malevolence out of his ability to show a kind face disguising a consuming hatred by reaching into a depth of gut anger.
The screenplay, co-written by director Shane Meadows ("Once Upon a Time in the Midlands") and Considine was germinated out of Meadows' own anger over the fate of a close friend who suffered at the hands of bullies and pushers, a feeling that Considine shared. The story is a case of imagining someone righting the wrongs of a system that turns a blind eye to countless atrocities that occur in the underbelly of England -- its small underprivileged towns.
The ensemble cast, put together in large part from workshop groups, draw their picture of low class hoodlum life with the advantages of type and interdependent chemistry. Gary Stretch, an ex-boxer who shows his pedigree with a flat nose and a buff physique, does well as the head of the gang and bears (I thought) something of a physical and stylistic similarity to Pearce Brosnan.
The sound track, incorporating folk-rock songs with guitar and a British flavor, suggests a poetic quality to the bloody proceedings.
It's not slickly done. It has the awkwardness of a low budget production with first-time actors. But the intensity and singularity of purpose -- plus a spontaneous quality -- is riveting. As anger sublimation, it's a useful piece of work -- one in which the filmmakers effectively transfer their alarm over societal apathy and their need for the drug of revenge.