Friday, 27 April 2007

Film Review: Dead Man's Shoes

by Charles Pooter

Before seeing Dead Man's Shoes, my only experience of director Shane Meadows' previous work was 24-7 (vague recollection, not that impressed) and before that Small Time (I remember not liking it, but it was a while ago, so this may be unfair), so I really didn't know what to expect.

The film centres around the characters of Richard (Paddy Considine) and his brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell). The plot is easy to explain: Richard is a soldier who has returned to his home town of Matlock in Derbyshire to take murderous revenge on the drug-dealing scum who have been tormenting his younger brother Anthony (who has learning difficulties). It really is as simple as that. But what the film lacks in apparent complexity, it more than make up for in its execution and depth of portrayal.

From the sublime opening scenes featuring Richard and his brother hiking home through the gorgeously filmed English countryside, which for some reason made me think of Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza (I apologise if that seems pretentious, it is just what came to mind), to the ridiculous nature of the idiotic yet idiosyncratic losers who inhabit the small towns of England, Dead Man's Shoes depicts England as it is. OK, so it is not England for everyone, and many of us strive to escape and forget the influence of the kind of lowlifes featured in the film, but for the slice of the country and the culture to which the lens of Meadows' camera is directed, it tells a truth. I always admire people who can see things clearly and without pretension, as is not something that I find easy, but Meadows and lead actor/co-writer Considine achieve this.

Paddy Considine as Richard in Dead Man's Shoes

Considine gives a performance which runs from menacing to genuinely touching, but which is always believable. Richard is fearless and Considine makes this clear in every scene. Something has made the soldier completely unafraid of the men who have persecuted his brother. He no longer cares what happens to him and this terrifies the gang. But his portrayal is not over the top. His protective love for Anthony is touching, but not sentimental; his menace is menacing because it consists of unpredictability, not because of grandstanding dialogue. There is none of the sub-Tarantino banter of a Guy Ritchie plastic gangster movie. Considine's career has rightfully taken off and I look forward to his portrayal of Rorschach in the adaption of Alan Moore's brilliant Watchmen graphic novel. The rest of the cast do their jobs admirably, including Toby Kebbell who turns in a totally believable performance as Anthony.

To my mind the film does have a few weaknesses. A major weakness is the score: although Aphex Twin's claustrophobic electronica is used to great effect in certain scenes (especially the "drug scene"), some of the other instrumental and choral music was, in my opinion, unsuitable. Firstly, many pieces were played too loud compared to dialogue in the surrounding scenes, leading to the music overwhelming the beautifully directed shots of Richard walking through the picturesque and evocative East Midlands landscape. Secondly, the music often didn't match the setting. This is hard to explain, but the tracks summoned up images in my mind of the South of France or the majesty of Rome rather than rural Derbyshire.

The film also had some unrealistic elements. These are minor flaws in an otherwise very believable setting and cast of characters. One example, that got on my nerves, was that the gang drove around in a Citroen 2CV. I'm sure this was for comedic effect, and a fully weighed-down Citreon containing a rag-bag troupe of drug-dealers is an amusing image, but it is wholly unrealistic. Reasonable looking used cars are dirt-cheap in 21st Century England. Every time the Citroen appeared, I was no longer immersed in the film.

Anyway, this is petty. Dead Man's Shoes is excellent English cinema, which is far more realistic and entertaining than the so-called "social realist" films of the 60s and 70s ever were (Kes excepted). It is also a refreshing change from the all the tedious, mockney gangster flicks that infested the English film industry in the 1990s.

1 comment:

Dareth Pooter said...
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