I, Daniel Blake, 2016.
Directed by Ken Loach.
Starring Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy, Briana Shann, and Dylan McKiernan.
A middle-aged carpenter who requires state welfare after injuring himself, is joined by a single mother in a similar scenario.
“My life is in their hands”, Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) utters as he is nearing the end of his circus reminiscent battle against the government for some welfare benefits. He is certainly not lazy, far from it; Daniel is a 59-year-old carpenter still in recovery for a heart related injury that has put him out of work. And that’s the way it should be; you pay your dues, live your life, and when your health starts to take a beating, the state should be there to give you a helping hand as a reward for the contributions made to society, not fuck you over seven different ways from Sunday. His life is in the hands of a bunch of clowns not at all concerned with what is best for his health and safety, and it’s just not fair.
Now let’s step aside and ponder the realities of this situation, because on some level even the most die-hard of liberals will have to admit that some of the scenarios presented here are intentionally a fabrication, or even satire. That doesn’t necessarily mean director Ken Loach (The Wind That Shakes the Barley, and a number of contemporary films heavily dealing with important and relevant social issues) is twisting the story to fit a leftist agenda, but that I, Daniel Blake assuredly has some sharply written black humor to its slice of life narrative. However, liberal or conservative, political stances shouldn’t have an effect on how dramatically engaging the film is, as its the strong direction, authentic performances, and our emotional attachment to the struggles of the characters that pull us in.
For example, Daniel befriends a divorced mother of two children named Katie (Hayley Squires) who is in a similar tight spot financially (she is stuck living in a city she doesn’t know and has also had benefits taken away for the most absurd reason), and as you would expect they bond over the course of the film. These scenes are by miles the more interesting, allowing audiences to get to know the characters as good-meaning citizens trying to do their best as they still come up short for reasons usually out of their control. By making an emotional connection with both Daniel and Katie, we increasingly grow attached to their fight against the system and begin fiercely rooting for them in their corner.
As previously mentioned, the performances found in I, Daniel Blake are very genuine and authentic. One of the biggest reasons is the decision by Ken Loach to use real people instead of trained actors to further sell the pain and suffering of the impoverished. A notable scene at a food drive charity of sorts contains a powerful moment that will instill sadness; it’s also a triumph that blends real actors with, once again, real workers of the charity drive. There is also a noticeable lack of color (especially when outdoors giving us a glimpse of poverty) that goes a long way in heightening the atmosphere of this almost hopeless situation against a system not looking out for the best interests of its civilians. Still, it’s just a mere backdrop to the terrific acting on display from Dave Johna and Hayley Squires; he is stubborn yet determined, while she is vulnerable yet always remains a loving mother that would do anything for her children.
Aside from the character relations, it’s also both amusing and sad watching Daniel essentially forced to learn how to use a computer to fill out paperwork for job seekers. Old people and technology; gotta love that dynamic. Anyway, even though Daniel cannot work, the reason that he is going through all of the complications of such a thing is because if he does not, he cannot receive some welfare benefits even though doctors have advised for him not to work period. It’s a complete cluster-fuck, but welcome to the life of Daniel Blake.
I, Daniel Blake is a frustrating movie to watch unfold for all the right reasons; it really gets under your skin and will have you angry at the degrading mistreatment by businesses and governments toward working-class citizens. Director Ken Loach also is superb at giving the whole thing a healthy dose of black comedy that makes the entire situation all the more ludicrous and engaging. Reservations aside about how realistic the situation is to the real world, the film definitely cuts deep and is an admirable reminder that the working class does deserve better.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★