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Dead Man's Shoes (2004)
22nd Feb 05
Two brothers return to the hometown they left years before, still run by the same gang of small-time drug dealers and thugs. One of the brothers is here for revenge.
Following on from his previous film, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, Shane Meadows returns with another film that plays with ‘western’ influences, albeit set in the quaint villages of Northern England rather than the wild dusty plains of America’s wild west. However, rather than following the humorous vein of Midlands, Dead Man’s Shoes is an entirely different gun belt full of pistols, instead opting for a grimy, gritty-Brit realism set amongst the harsh violent world of small-time drug-dealers, thugs and ex-Army soldiers.
Taking place over a time period of five days (each day is sign-posted with an early-morning title card), the film follows Paddy Considine’s character Richard (accompanied by his younger, more backward brother, Anthony played by Tony Kebbel), who returns to his village after a gap of eight years. But he’s not coming home for a garden party, that's for sure, as the peaceful opening credits shots of the two brothers walking along the countryside soon gives way to the first words of the film, a narration by Richard - “God will forgive them for what they have done, and he will allow them into heaven. I can't live with that.”
Together they make their first trip into town, where Richard encounters a small-time drug dealer peddling his wares in a youth club. After a few tense words, the drug dealer leaves, only to be followed by Richard who apologises for his behaviour. The drug dealer is a little shaken by all this, and later, when he visits his friends (hilariously reading out lines from a porn mag), he comes to the conclusion that the man who confronted him is Anthony’s brother, and he means business.
From here on, the stage is set, as we are treated to sporadic back and white flashbacks to how the gang once treated the backward Anthony. We see the gang force him to take drugs, and abuse him both mentally and physically. We are left in no doubt that Richard means to atone for their behaviour to his brother and a foul wind now blows down these dusty village streets. And when Richard returns later that evening, wearing a boiler suit and a suitably freaky gas mask, we know that there’s going to be a fistful of revenge and redemption happening before this tale reaches it’s end.
Combining kitchen sink drama with a violent revenge story, Dead Man’s Shoes is light years away from most of the endless stream of ill thought out London gangster stories of late (Layer Cake aside). Utilising a more naturalistic tone (the actors dialogue often overlaps, and feels more real than most cinema), Meadows uses his violent set pieces sparingly to really drive up the tension of the situation. Instead of going straight in for the kill, Richard holds back at first, merely intimidating the gang with aerosols and women’s make-up to make them aware of his presence. It is only at the end of day two when Richard makes his first killing, a vicious axe attack in the toilet which leaves one man dead and the words ‘One Down’ written in blood on the wall.
Although Dead Man’s Shoes is a simple tale of bloody revenge, in the hands of Shane Meadows it thankfully becomes much more. Yes, it is a violent film (although maybe not as graphic as you may think), but Meadows has not forgotten to include both heart and humour. The heart of the film comes from Richard and his dialogue scenes with his brother, which gives us the chance to empathise with the lead character. With obvious love for his ‘special’ brother, we can almost relate to how Richard has been driven down this path, even though we’re not made aware of the extent of the gang’s humiliation of Anthony until nearer the end.
There is also a lot of humour, including one or two laugh out loud moments. Most of these involve the actions of the stupid small-time drug dealers and thugs (they drive an old knackered Citroen 2CV, they snort parmesan cheese etc). Unfortunately this is also perhaps the films biggest weakness, as the thugs are sometimes portrayed as cartoon-ish characters, especially the leader Sonny, who whilst being a Grade-A asshole, is also a little too cardboard to take seriously.
In acting terms, Paddy Considine must take most of the honours. Steadily building on his work ever since his great appearances in 24 Hour Party People and In America, here he puts in a sterling performance as the vengeful older brother, and never once do we doubt his course of action. He is quite literally terrifying in his encounters with the gang, yet at the same time believably tender in his scenes with Anthony, and a big career is surely beckoning for him now.
Co-written by Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows, the script is lean, yet inventive. Dialogue remains gritty and real, almost improvised (although the sound on the DVD we saw this on was not great, meaning several lines of dialogue were lost under the swells of music – hopefully this won’t be the case with the rental or retail DVDs). Vengeance is an oft-used tool in thriller cinema, but here it feels fresh, and more ‘real ‘than we’re used to seeing. This film may not be suitable for lovers of The Rock’s Walking Tall revenge-style of story, there’s no muscle-man fist fights or guarantee of a happy ending here.
With solid direction, good editing and great acting, Dead Man’s Shoes is a resolute film, and one that could hopefully bring a larger audience for Shane Meadows (whose films remain criminally under seen, even in this country). It likes to think itself a mix of Taxi Driver (indeed there is a poster of the film in one of the drug dealer’s flats), Straw Dogs and Deliverance, and although not quite in the same league as any of those three, it deserves to stand on it’s own, and is another example of how good British thrillers can be if we stop making them about cockney southerner Nancy-boy gangster films.
The hardest hit hard up north. And you’re wearing Dead Man’s Shoes.
DVD Extras include: ° Commentary With Shane Meadows And Paddy Considine And Producer Mark Herbert
° Deleted Scenes And Extended Takes
° Alternate Ending
° In Shane Shoes Documentary
° Danger Mouse Music Video
° Graphic Novel Animated Sequences
° Northern Soul Short Film
° Hidden Extra Commentary Out Takes
Versions Dead Man's Shoes is released for rental in the UK on the 21st February.
You can buy a copy a month later from March 21st (pre-order here at amazon.co.uk.