Dead Man’s Shoes: Review. By Luke Foulder-Hughes.
Dead Man’s Shoes is a film about an ex soldier returning to his hometown to seek revenge on the small-time crooks who tormented his mentally ill brother whilst he was away. However, this film is so much deeper than other revenge flicks like the ‘Rambo’ franchise. Meadows uses his characters to create a blurred line between the hero and villain narrative used in many films in this genre and does so in a magnificently impressive way, almost as good as Scorsese’s masterpiece ‘Taxi Driver’ does with Travis Bickle.
The characters in this film are fantastic, particularly Paddy Considine as Richard, who gives a career high performance as well as being one I would consider amongst the greatest of all time. He also co-wrote the movie with Meadows, which helps his character feel authentic and personal to the audience. Considine finds a way to have the audience constantly root for his character despite the fact he brutally murders people throughout the 90 minute run time.
This performance doesn’t necessarily have the character having a descent to madness like many character studies often do, Richard is shown to be unstable as soon as we are introduced to the character when he is in the pub with his brother. He instantly flips on Stuart Wolfenden’s character Herbie, who is one of the main antagonists of Dead Man’s Shoes. Considine maintains a level of intensity throughout, becoming a terrifyingly intense character in the final act. A minor complaint I have with this film is the main antagonist being cast as Gary Stretch. Personally, I didn’t find him very scary despite his good performance as he didn’t necessarily fit the role of a drug dealer, however this is a small detail as the performance from Stretch is nothing short of great.
Most of the technical aspects of Dead Man’s Shoes are done to perfection and are suited to the atmosphere that Meadows is presenting. The cinematography is brilliant, every shot is chosen for a specific reason by the director and each shot could be studied to find different meanings for each scene. It doesn’t look polished as well, which is excellent as it helps create the gritty and depressing aesthetic that Meadows wanted. Another minor problem I have with the film is that I personally feel the flashback scenes could’ve been done better. I did like the distinct black and white imagery, reminiscent of ‘American History X’, however they all had this filter applied to make it look like a VHS tape.
I understand it was done to show it was in the past however I don’t feel it’s necessary and that the black and white imagery conveyed this perfectly fine. I also didn’t like the music over the top of the flashback scenes, for me it was too loud and wasn’t needed. Despite this, these things only bothered me at the start of the film as towards the end the content within these scenes was so intriguing my eyes were glued to the screen.
Something I loved was the fact that this film embraced its influences whilst having a completely new take on its predecessors. For example, Richard’s coat is very similar to De Niro’s in Taxi Driver, as well as in one of the scenes there is a poster of the 1976 film on the wall of a bedroom. Another film Dead Man’s Shoes takes a lot of key narrative conventions from is ‘First Blood’ which is referenced through the use of unconventional weapons as well as the main character being a mentally unstable war veteran who can survive outside in nature. It’s interesting that this film was influenced by ‘First Blood’ as Meadows and Considine admit to re enacting the classic movie as children growing up in Nottingham.
Another great thing about Dead Man’s shoes is that it is often darkly comedic, with the standout moment being the recurring joke about the man in the gas mask being an elephant man. As well as being funny, this comedy about these minor criminal characters shows that they are just simply not very intelligent, this portrays them as having childlike innocence around their bullying of Antony, Richard’s brother. However, when we find out later in the film the truth about what happened, this pity the audience may feel for these characters is eradicated entirely. This showcases the expert film making on display from Meadows as he can find a grey area between good and bad that not many directors can do with their characters.
This is an incredibly difficult film to watch, particularly the second half, Dead Man’s Shoes is something that you can only watch once every few years, as it is so powerful and uncomfortable to watch, much like something like ‘Come and See’ or ‘The Deer Hunter’. It’s difficult to talk about without spoiling major plot points, so if you’re reading this I urge you to see this as soon as you can. It’s a massively important film, dealing with issues like mental illness.
If you like ‘Taxi Driver’ or the revenge genre you will likely love Dead Man’s Shoes, the same goes if you are a fan of other work by Shane Meadows as it features recognisable actors from ‘This is England’ and the subsequent mini series’, as well as showing where the director got his style of gritty film making from.
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