Dead Man's Shoes (2004)
By: Mr Intolerance on February 4, 2009  | 
DVD
Hopscotch Entertainment (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. 90 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Shane Meadows
Starring: Paddy Considine, Gary Stretch, Toby Kebbell
Screenplay: Paddy Considine, Shane Meadows
Country: UK
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
"What the fuck y'lookin' at?"

"You, ya cunt!"

From the word go, and the first interaction between protagonist and antagonist, Dead Man's Shoes is a confronting film. Basically a revenge tragedy set in the North of England, the film benefits from the fact it works on a small, practically domestic scale to really drive its point home to the audience. The violence that permeates the film through both dialogue and action is almost as physical a presence as Paddy Considine's stellar performance as a man entirely fuelled by fury, pain and the desire to right wrongs.

Richard (Considine) and Anthony (Toby Kebbell) are brothers. Richard is the elder brother, fiercely protective of his somewhat dim-witted younger brother, who's been roundly abused by a local gang of drug dealers in the little Northern English town they grew up in. Richard, however, has left town to join the army, and there's no-one left to take care of Anthony, who's incapable of taking care of himself, and has become a hanger-on to the gang, led by thuggish, brutal Sonny (Stretch). But when Richard returns after 7 years, it's to settle some scores, violently, and with no remorse. That's yer basic plot, and that's where we start right from the get-go of this hyper-violent, gritty and yet at times still funny and touching film. The opening montage of the two brothers growing up to the tune of a sensitive folk song is one of the scenes that proves that a heart beats below the surface of this harder-than-a-coffin-nail film, later scenes emphasise the fact.

The context in which the action happens is indicative of the characters who dwell within it – bitter, harsh, misogynistic, run-down and generally Spartan to the point of poverty. Luxury doesn't seem to exist for anyone, not even for the drug-dealers who run the town, dwelling in squalid flats, dressing like chavs and otherwise generally living the low-life. There's nothing good and pure in this place, except maybe Richard's loyalty to his tag-along brother, but even that's tainted by a brutality and violence that the audience can't sit easily with in sympathy.

The gang sense that something isn't right, after Richard confronts one of them in a local pub, and that Anthony's brother might have come back, and they aren't happy about it. Matter of fact, they seem almost scared, positively uneasy that it might be him. So what do they do? Skin up some big fat spliffs and get well and truly munted. This does not work in their favour. Richard has turned up at their estate, dressed outlandishly in a boiler suit and World War One gas mask, looking as sinister as fuck, and wanting to have a go, and generally fucking with their minds, in what is one of the film's more blackly funny moments. You almost feel guilty for laughing at such a broad comedy scene in such an otherwise bleak film.

There's no honour among thieves, and drug dealers must be cut from a similar cloth. Once Richard has made his presence known, the internal feuding begins. The flashbacks Meadows has introduced since the beginning of the film make Anthony an even more abject and pitiful character, and reinforces the villainy of the dealers. He's been rail-roaded into joining the gang, and doing things that an otherwise innocent person would never have done. Thus, he damns himself through no fault of his own – he simply knows no better. You can't help but sympathise with him. He's not like Matthew in I Spit on Your Grave – he lacks even that level of intellect, he's actually a tragic figure who just wants to be liked and part of something.

The dealers confront Richard on the street, and it's made even more abudantly clear for the audience that he has nothing but the utmost contempt for them, and that he's in the driving seat in this situation. Considine's performance manages to be equal parts understated and frightening – he's a tightly coiled ball of rage with nothing in the way of mercy for the people he's told he's going to kill. You believe him. This is no DeNiro Taxi Driver "You talkin' to me?" caricature – this is a man on a mission to get vengeance. When he tells Sonny his aim, it's no threat, it's a promise.

Once the vengeance starts, the level of violence escalates wildly, and a sense of chaos envelopes the story. The audience's sympathies swerve all around the place, the initial sense of black humour that permeated the first act of the film dissipates like dandelion spores, and the sense of Richard as a threat to the gang becomes positively electric. This is definitely the work of a top-shelf director getting the best possible performances out of a pretty good cast of character actors.

As we move into the final act, a certain kind of fatalism takes over the characters, both good and bad, if those terms still hold any meaning for the audience. The moral ambiguity the film conjures has kind of made that a bit of a grey area, to put it mildly. There's a uniquely English feel to some moments of the finale to this film – if you've seen it, you'll probably know what I'm talking about, and a certain sense of poetic justice as well. I guess akind of inevitability holds sway over the whole thing, too, which I guess helps to keep the audience actively engaged.

Dead Man's Shoes is kind of like brutal poetry. While it has a kind of lyrical quality to it in the more sentimental scenes, it still has the visceral sucker-punches a fan of revenge films needs, but yet never turns the corner into purely exploitative flicks such as Ms. 45 or Death Wish. It walks a fine line between straight drama and something more wilfully perverse. In terms of revenge tragedy it fulfills all of the genre conventions: the revenger who could be perceived as mad due to their obsession, the just motive, the corrupt society whereby it's not an option for the hero to take lawful justice, the grotesque violence, the black humour, the ruination of the innocent, and the sense of desolation and waste at the end of the film is palpable – Meadows ticks all of the boxes as much as Shakespeare did with Hamlet or Tourneur (or Middleton, depending on who you believe) did with The Revenger's Tragedy. And what's more, he does so with style, but never sacrificing substance for it.

Director Shane Meadows makes excellent and effective use of flashback in slowly unravelling the story of Dead Man's Shoes, gradually unveiling the levels of abuse and ridicule that Anthony received (and which he was too simple-minded to see) at the hands of Sonny and his gang – it serves as an effective counterpoint to the vicious retaliation Richard takes; gives him a reason, and allows us to sympathise with him and want to see vengeance – justice – take place in a world of meaning.
Video
Excellent. Given it's a recent film, and has been released in its original 1.85:1 aspect with 16:9 enhancement, you really couldn't ask for more. And in terms of the story, it looks every bit as grimy and squalid as you could hope for.
Audio
Also good – it has a very naturalistic sound, which I liked. When watching it, you feel like you're kind of there, in the scene. Good use of the surround format, and an excellent score that totally suits the feel of the film at all points.
Extra Features
An embarrassment of riches for a one disc edition. There's an audio commentary with writer/director Shane Meadows, writer/actor Paddy Considine and producer Mark Herbert, a number of deleted scenes (nothing that needed inclusion), an alternate ending (I preferred the original, this version seemed overdone), extended takes (again, nothing that needed to be added to the cinematic release), a featurette "In Shane's Shoes" (which it states is there on the back of the case, but which didn't appear on any of the menus – go figure), a short film by Shane Meadows called "Northern Soul" (which features actors from Dead Man's Shoes, and the most bizarre attempt at auto-erotic asphyxiation I've ever seen – a black comedy about wrestling, or at least wanting to be a wrestler – it was all a bit lost on me), scenes from the graphic novel the film was adapted from (this is kind of animated with soundtrack from the film), out-takes and trailers (for Shortbus, The Kovak Box and The Backwoods). Also, if you can find it, there's another audio commentary as an Easter Egg.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
I can't say enough good things about this film. I love a good revenge story, and this is one of the best I've seen in a while. The twist ending was a little too obvious for me, but I think it rounded out the story appropriately. The performances drive this film, especially that of Paddy Considine, who is nothing short of excellent – barely contained fury in a tortured soul who needs to make things right, despite going against the mores of society, which he's clearly unhappy about doing. He comes across as a sympathetic, brutal revenger, a necessary character given the vicious context he's dealing with, a la Harry Callahan or Paul Kersey (if you don't know who those characters are, you don't watch enough films). My suggestion is that if you don't have Dead Man's Shoes in your collection, then you need to do something about that problem, pronto. This is a film that people will be looking back to for years and extolling the virtues of. A 100% gem, and they're rare in this day and age.

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