Dead Man’s Shoes is a psychological revenge thriller, co-written and directed by the toast of the British critical community, Shane Meadows. Writing with Paul Fraser and Paddy Considine, who also stars, the film focuses on the return to a small northern town of an ex-soldier who reappears after his little brother is humiliated by a group of local drug dealers. The film opens with little back story and reveals itself through the use of grainy, black and white flashbacks, building a picture of the events which lead up to the current plot as it progresses in ever more violent and sadistic ways. It saves its biggest and best reveal until close to the conclusion in a feat of wonderful storytelling which put a delicious cherry on top of an already appealing cinematic cake.
Although Shane Meadows is considered to be one of the brightest talents in UK cinema, I’ve never really found myself that blown away by his films. I can appreciate his style and especially the way in which he gets his films made but they’ve never done anything for me. This changed with Dead Man’s Shoes and instantly became my favourite film from a director I hadn’t really got until now. Not only do I think it’s one of Meadows’ best but I’m struggling to think of a better independent British film from the past decade too.
Although the film is technically very well made, it’s the story which really drives it to great heights. Considine’s character is creepy and calculating and appears almost like a ghost in the film. For the other characters, they’re actually living a real life horror story in which Considine’s Richard is the ghostly monster who hunts them. The tension is palpable but it’s played off against some fantastic black comedy. The reactions on the faces of the other characters as Richard comes marauding into their lives is priceless and their car, speech and general confusion adds a lot to the comedy. I deeply disliked the drug dealing characters and was glad to see what was coming to them. They’re the type of big fish in a small pond, slurred speeched northerners who you always get in the sort of town depicted in the film and indeed in the outlying areas of larger towns. Their inability to deal with what was happening to them drives a lot of the comedy and furthers the plot.
I don’t want to talk much about the actual story aside from saying that it’s really well written, edgy and up there with the revenge thrillers of Na Hong-jin, Kim Ji-woon and Jeong-beom Lee. For a small British picture to be mentioned in amongst the heavyweights from Korea shows how highly I rate the writing. Meadows’ direction is also superb. I liked the stylistic choice to film the flashbacks in black and white as it really separated them from the central arc set in the modern day. Both the flashbacks and ‘current’ cinematography were visually dazzling and simple yet eye-catching. The film has a great look about it which pitches itself somewhere between Ken Loach’s gritty realism and David Lynch’s psychological fantasy. The visuals are accompanied by a great soundtrack which really hits the dramatic notes hard while the sets were also very well dressed.
Paddy Considine is an actor who goes up in my estimations upon each new role I see him in. Here he is about as good as I’ve seen him. He brings such intensity and cruelty to the role but is also frail and reserved at times. There’s a lot of love and passion coming through too and a lack of malice or regret in his eyes as he wields axes and knives. The final scene tops off a wonderful performance when all of the above is broken down and from the wreckage emerges a simple, normal human who loves his brother. The supporting cast is also generally quite good and they mostly give performances which feel highly improvised, loose and natural.
Overall as you can probably tell, I really liked Dead Man’s Shoes. It’s a tightly woven thriller with a tremendous story that slowly unravels while pulling punches at every turn. It’s set in a realistic location amongst realistic people and features one of the best performances so far from one of my country’s top acting talents.