Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to highlight films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to…
United Kingdom! We were here last visiting In Bruges, which for me is currently in a tight race with The Dark Knight for best film of the year. I know, two utterly different movies, but that’s just how I roll. This week’s film was released four years ago, and while I usually prefer to cover current foreign releases I’m making an exception on account of Batman. If I haven’t lost you yet, allow me to explain… The Dark Knight got me thinking about other revenge flicks. I asked around, I searched online, and one film I hadn’t seen before kept getting high marks and recommendations. And it’s a foreign film. Voila!
Dead Man’s Shoes is a deceptively simple film. It appears to be straight forward in it’s telling, but slowly reveals itself to have a couple minor surprises in store. Richard (Paddy Considine) has returned to his small hometown from a recent stint in the military, and he’s not all that happy. It seems some of the locals have been harassing his younger brother, Anthony (Toby Kebbell), which itself is bad enough but made worse by the fact that Anthony is slightly challenged in the mental capacity department. The group of thugs hangs out with Anthony, gets him high, gets him laid… these guys are real bastards. Richard and Anthony walk through town and the surrounding countryside, talking and joking like brothers should, until Anthony points out one of the ruffians. The gang’s actions are shown in grainy flashbacks interspersed throughout Richard’s escalating acts of retaliation. At first Richard seems content with intimidation and vandalism, but soon he’s appearing in his olive drabs, wearing a gas mask over his face, carrying an axe… and the lowlifes start dying.
The film works its way through five days or chapters, and at times it feels like work for the viewer as well. The pace never wavers from a slow meander, and there are no real action scenes or grand (or even baby grand) set pieces. The bad guys aren’t memorable, and while they’re complete morons they don’t seem to be that evil. They’re bored, middle-aged punks, nothing more, nothing menacing. Richard’s vengeance at first seems pretty disproportionate to the offenses revealed via flashback, and you begin to wonder who the bad guy here really is. You may also wonder what the intended point of the film is… straight revenge drama? Commentary on the use of violence? The morality of revenge? Scathing indictment on the way England treats her war veterans suffering from mental illness?
And yet, for the most part, Dead Man’s Shoesholds your attention a lot stronger than you’d expect. All of the credit for that goes to Considine who plays Richard with fierce intensity, bottled (with the cork slightly loosened) rage, and just a little bit of crazy. The last time I saw Considine he was wisecracking about bolognaise as Detective Andy Wainwright in Hot Fuzz, and the role of Richard is a departure to say the least. Considine also co-wrote the film with director Shane Meadows, who per IMDB has directed several films I’ve never heard of before and probably won’t be seeking out on the basis of this movie alone. The rest of the cast is capable, although some of them flirt with being unintelligible when they speak. As a revenge film, there aren’t enough cathartic thrills and kills, and as a drama there’s too much pointless behavior that prevents you from getting truly invested in the characters.
The Upside: Paddy Considine gives a great performance that’s frightening, intense, and decidedly unfunny, and there’s a mild and only slightly predictable twist towards the end
The Downside: Slow going from beginning to end, bland antagonists, and it adds little to the revenge genre
Related Topics: Foreign Objects