Dead Man’s Shoes

25 Jul

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Dead Man’s Shoes becomes one of those rare films on this blog of mine that I review with the benefit of a second watch. I first saw this movie in early 2012 and I’ve been meaning to give it a re-watch for a good while now. As it has just been my 25th birthday, my girlfriend very astutely bought me the film as a gift, and I can tell you it was one that was gratefully received. As one person told me on Twitter, “If she’s buys you that as a birthday present, she’s a keeper”.

The story is thus; A former soldier, Richard (Paddy Considine) returns home to England in a bid to hunt down a group of men who bullied and brutalized his mentally impaired brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) years earlier. Richard’s plans for the group quickly become apparent; he wants to kill them for the suffering they cruelly inflicted upon his brother.

I was delighted to find that this film held up well on a second watch. It is always a concern that a film I loved first time round will reveal some flaws on a repeat viewing but Dead Man’s Shoes was pretty much exactly as I remembered it. The film teams several-time collaborators Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows. I recently reviewed Considine’s debut feature A Room For Romeo Brass. In that review, I wrote of Considine, “He turns this…oddball character into an incredibly intense and unnerving one, and I genuinely did not sit comfortably in my seat for a single second of his screen time.” Well, at the risk of being lazy and plagiarising my own writing, I’m happy to let that stand as my summary of Considine again in this movie.

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I have conflicting opinions of the path that Considine’s career has taken. On the one hand, I see him as a fine actor that deserves to be playing larger roles and is worthy of greater recognition than he tends to enjoy. On the other hand though, I like that despite his prodigious acting talent, as displayed here, he is able to shirk the limelight to a large extent and concentrate on making really great movies without the same pressure that bigger films might bring. Films like Dead Man’s Shoes are never going to get true international recognition, but for anybody wanting to know about what British cinema has to offer, they could do far worse than watch this movie.

Set in Matlock, Derbyshire, the piece never looks anything less than brilliant. The swathes of green set against the neat houses is a visual treat, but it also helps aid the incredible intensity of the story. As Richard works his way through his group of victims, the whole feel of the story is genuinely tense. Although I didn’t feel it as much the second time round, I remember on my first watch that there were times when I felt a strong sense of trepidation with every move certain characters made. Also intertwined with the linear narrative are flashbacks to the treatment that Anthony had to endure at the hands of the group. These build up gradually as the film progresses until we know exactly what happened to Anthony to cause Richard such emotional trauma.

Dropped into the thrilling plot are some brilliant moments of pure comedy. A scene where a drug dealer and supposed hard man answers his door in effeminate make-up without anybody acknowledging it is fantastic. Similarly, the less subtle approach taken by other goons who have unwillingly been given a make over is hilarious.

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I really love the dialogue throughout Dead Man’s Shoes. It’s incredibly naturalistic and entirely believable that these characters should speak in the way that they do. There is constant swearing that takes in some very English colloquialisms, and the characters fire constant barbed insults at each other. For all of the confrontations that take place in this film, the best must surely that between Richard and the apparent ringleader of the group he is after. There is madness in Considine’s eyes as he tells his adversary how easily he could cut his throat, and if you don’t find yourself feeling a little bit nervous after that exchange then you’re braver than me.

Toby Kebbell also puts in an excellent performance as Anthony. He is far more understated than Considine and could almost blend into the background, except that his character is essentially the anchor for the whole story. He only had a short amount of time to prepare to play a character that, by his nature, presents some significant challenges for an actor. Kebbell is more than able to handle it though and despite relatively limited screentime for a major character, he really does shine.

For as much as I love this film, I couldn’t give it a fair review without pointing out a couple of plot holes. The most obvious one would be; how does Richard find these men? You’ll have to watch the film to see why that is a valid query, but it’s something I don’t feel you ever get a satisfying explanation for. Maybe plot hole is the wrong phrase to use, but I do believe it’s a fair question. At other times, characters make decisions that don’t seem particularly beneficial to themselves and seem perhaps slightly too convenient in moving the story along.

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I have to stress though that these are incredibly minor criticisms. The film has more than enough quality to overcome these little issues and if it wasn’t for the fact I was trying to write a fair review, I can’t imagine I would’ve really picked up on these things anyway.

Combining fantastic tension with some wonderfully dark comic touches, Shane Meadows has produced a mini masterpiece with Dead Man’s Shoes. In casting regular collaborator Paddy Considine he found the perfect leading man. An extremely cineliterate friend of mine suggested that Richard is one of the most intimidating characters he’s ever seen portrayed in a film, and I have to say it’s hard to disagree with that assessment. He’s unnerving, mostly because despite the madness that lies behind his eyes, you know he’s completely sane and chillingly calculated. With great visuals and an excellent accompanying soundtrack, Dead Man’s Shoes remains one of my favourite movies and a wonderful testament to how brilliant British cinema can be.

8/10

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One Response to “Dead Man’s Shoes”

  1. The Animation Commendation July 26, 2013 at 02:39 #

    Happy B-day!

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