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"God will forgive them. He'll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can't live with that."
Dead Man's Shoes (DVD)
Member Name: hogsflesh
Dead Man's Shoes (DVD)
Date: 04/09/08, updated on 04/09/08 (560 review reads)
Advantages: Grim, superbly acted, impressively nasty
Disadvantages: Weak ending
A review of the Optimum DVD. It cost less than £5 on amazon at the moment.
This is a British film made by acclaimed director Shane Meadows in 2004. It's a thoroughly nasty revenge tragedy, and one of the few British films I've seen in recent years to have impressed me.
Two brothers, ex-squaddie Richard and retarded Anthony, return to a small Derbyshire town. A group of small-time drug dealers had previously tormented Anthony, and Richard is out for revenge.
This is a brutal little film. Although there's a vein of profoundly dark humour running through it, you won't finish the film feeling happy and exhilarated. It was shot in a small town in Derbyshire and the surrounding countryside, and the run-down mundanity of its locations gives it an ambience unlike that of many other films. The film has inevitably been compared to Get Carter, the other great British film of brotherly revenge, and they both make good use of deprived, working class locations, where films normally don't go.
The film's star is Paddy Considine, an actor I'd seen here and there before this. He gives a frightening and intense performance as the brother out for revenge, able to flip from charming and persuasive to scarily psychotic in a second. Although top-billed (and also the co-writer of the film) it doesn't really feel like he's the star. This is a brilliantly cast ensemble film, although none of the other actors were familiar to me. Toby Kebbell, as the handicapped brother, is superb, totally convincing (and as in Get Carter, there's some ambivalence about the relationship between the brothers).
The people targeted for revenge are also exceptionally well acted - a motley gang of minor thugs; local hard men who suddenly find themselves massively out of their depth. Their druggie banter before things get nasty rings completely true, and a few of them are almost likeable. They're stupid men trying to understand how something they did years ago has got them in such a mess now, and their performances are almost painfully realistic. And they give some of the best druggie acting I've ever seen.
I think it might be the drug scenes that earned this film its 18 certificate. The violence, although occasionally ferocious, isn't terribly extreme (and nor is it always very convincing). The nature of the revenge is pretty horrible, though, as Richard thoroughly screws with his victim's heads before turning really nasty. The flashbacks to what they did to Anthony are also horrible; again, not particularly violent, but full of the sexual humiliation and taunting of a young man who can't understand what's happening to him. There's some stuff in there that should make you feel deeply uneasy.
Richard gradually loses the sympathy of the audience as we start to suspect that his revenge is a bit indiscriminate. As more is revealed in flashback about what exactly happened to Anthony, though, we also lose any sympathy for the thugs. In the end we're left with no sympathy for anyone, which makes for a rather bleak film. The ending feels a bit weak after all that's gone before. It lacks the massive sense of catharsis it needs, although maybe that's deliberate. Another criticism is that Richard occasionally seems a bit too superhuman in his revenge - it's like he's everywhere at once, always one or two steps ahead of his prey. This is fine and all - it gives it a nice horror film feel, especially since he wears a scary gas mask for his attacks - but it's rather at odds with the realism of the rest of the film.
It's a lovely film to look at. The aesthetics of ordinary, working class England aren't explored often enough on film, and the world of satellite dishes, shabby garages and speed-limit signs has never looked so fascinating. It also has a nice feel for the countryside. The direction is good, making frequent use of hand-held camera, and cranking up the tension when needed. The soundtrack is full of melancholy indie numbers, the kind of music I'd never listen to in real life, but which is absolutely spot on for something like this.
There are quite a few extras on the disk. There's a music video I didn't watch all of, and some extended and deleted scenes which are interesting (including a much less good version of the film's ending). There are a few pages from a graphic novel adaptation, oddly. There's a 25-minute documentary, which mostly consists of Shane Meadows talking about the film, with some footage from the shoot and the film's premier. The documentary also includes the trailer, which is rather pointlessly included as a separate extra (there are a few trailers for other films, too). And Meadows, Considine, and the film's producer do a commentary which is quite annoying. They keep calling each other 'dude' and seem to have had more fun recording it than anyone would have listening to them.
The final extra is a short film from Meadows called Northern Soul, about a guy who wants to become a wrestler (in the old-fashioned World Of Sport sense, rather than the modern 'hitting each other with fire extinguishers' sense). It's mildly amusing, and stars a few people from Dead Man's Shoes. The problem is that the main character is played by Toby Kebbell, and because he played a retarded character in Dead Man's Shoes, it sort of felt like he was retarded in this, too (I think he's just meant to be comically dimwitted). So when he gets soundly beaten by a real wrestler, it felt nasty rather than funny. Ah well.
Dead Man's Shoes isn't quite perfect, but it's still extremely good. It'll probably leave you feeling mildly depressed, but that's a good thing in this case. It's exactly the kind of film that we should be making in this country, and has more to say about being English than any number of Jane Austen adaptations or Blairite romantic comedies. I recommend it.
Summary: A damn good recent British film