Directed by Shane Meadows.
Starring Paddy Considine, Gary Stretch and Toby Kebbel.
Richard, an intense loner and former soldier, returns to his native Midlands village seeking vengeance against the small-time drug dealers who cruelly bullied his mentally disabled brother Anthony while he was away on duty. Richard’s determination to achieve a full and brutal revenge results in an ominous conclusion to the street criminals who toil unsuccessfully to avoid his wrath.
Shane Meadows secured his position as Britain’s brightest new director with this haunting revenge tale which enthrals the viewer from beginning to end, using severe violence and disgustingly inhumane behaviour from characters each side of the conflict. Co-written by director Meadows and lead actor Considine, the opening line from Richard (Considine) reads “God will forgive them. He’ll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can’t live with that.” This sets the scene for the entire film, a simple but compelling story of revenge in which the viewer finds himself sympathising with a seemingly psychotic serial killer as his mental state deteriorates in front of our eyes.
Released a year after Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) and the same year as Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004), Dead Man’s Shoes incorporates many of the same themes and the plot develops similarly. The avenger as our lead protagonist – intent on revenge and mass-murdering their former wrongdoers – is common across these films, with the viewer somehow finding themselves sympathising with the brutality. There are however stark contrasts between the films, differences which ensure that to my mind, Dead Man’s Shoes must be considered a superior film. Tarantino’s style-over-substance, enormous-budget melodrama is in direct opposition to Meadows’ low-budget kitchen-sink thriller, which focuses on character relationships over stylistic content. These complicated relationships include Richard’s love and care for his younger, mentally disabled brother Anthony, an innocent but kind simpleton, as well as flashback scenes which demonstrate Anthony’s prior involvement with the local petty crooks.
Although Dead Man’s Shoes may be considered a melodrama, this does not detract from the intelligence of Meadows’ work. A film which demonstrates several gruesome murders as acceptable must be considered advanced, with the movie exuding a constant haunting nature, from the black and white flashback scenes (a technique often used by Meadows) to Richard’s now seemingly extinct army gas mask. Considine’s performance as the lead character Richard is as strong as it can be and Toby Kebbell gives a superb performance as the mentally challenged Anthony, unfathomably in his first film role. His performance might not equal the world-class depictions of a mentally challenged character such as Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man (1988) or Sean Penn in I am Sam (2001), but nonetheless is still extremely touching, vulnerable and most importantly, believable (with Kebbell recognised as Most Promising Newcomer at the British Independent Film Awards).
Overall this film is a stunning achievement by Meadows; an underrated thriller which deserves its place among the best of contemporary British cinema. It is a must see for all Brits with a love for film but still transcends to a wider audience because of its easily communicated themes. It is low-budget British filmmaking through and through with a gritty, realistic style that leaves audiences hoping Meadows stays this side of the Atlantic for many years to come.
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