Dead Man’s Shoes

Directed by Shane Meadows

Showing as part of the Cinematic Juke Box season at The Prince Charles Cinema, one of the best British films of the Millennium. Don’t miss it! 

‘God will forgive them. He’ll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can’t live with that.’

After Once Upon A Time In The Midlands Shane Meadows once more takes on a western theme – this time the stranger riding back into town with vengeance on his mind. The notion of a moral and spiritual framework is set by the opening lines, above, and despite the film occasionally veering into pure laddish horror territory, is never really absent. Richard (the splendid Paddy Considine), fresh out of the army, is back with his brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) on a mission to avenge something terrible that happened to Anthony  some years earlier, the facts of which are gradually revealed to us in a series of grainy flashbacks. The perpetrators are a group of bullies, inadequates with bleak lives involved in the petty drug running of Sonny (Gary Stretch) the local lowlife boss. Few film-makers of recent years have captured in such demeaning detail the tawdriness and casual cruelties of life in washed up small towns of Britain today.

It’s an extremely disturbing film, using long periods of stillness punctuated with increasingly frequent bursts of violence and action that makes one perpetually uneasy. One of the most disquieting aspects is the juxtaposition of rough humour with intense seriousness. From painting the faces of sleeping drunks to savagery is only one jolting step, unexpected and shocking, so that we are guiltily caught with the smile dying on our lips. But stronger than the horror is an immense feeling of sadness. Part of the strength of the film, I think, is its power to make us aware of ourselves as observers by the use of still, framed shots – a country lane, the bare framework of a barn, Fordian vistas of the countryside through square openings. There is a brooding sense of place, the familiar mean streets and interiors of Britain, the castle watchful and full of menace, giving a bleak, monumental despair to what is at times a rather overwrought story. Paddy Considine’s performance is remarkable, his face unfathomable, all-powerful, and finally pitiable, but even more impressive is Toby Kebbell as Anthony in a heart-breaking performance which keeps the plot grounded in realism despite its sometimes over-melodramatic tendencies.

The devastating revelation of what really happened in the past is followed by a not entirely satisfactory resolution, but Meadows nearly pulls it off, as the final, beautiful, camera shot rises from the earth and wheels above the community – the souls of the dead free at last, our own relieved withdrawal from the action, or maybe the grieving eye of the God who really will forgive even the last enormity.

Seen at Tyneside Cinema, September 2004



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