English filmmaker Shane Meadows shrugs off the cynical, bittersweet working class standpoint evident in his preceding films, such as Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, and interchanges it with a savage, gripping, genre-defying, sinister contemporary tale of violence and retribution: an austere examination of small-town revenge.
Very rarely do modern filmmakers challenge a mainstream genre. In this day and age, we feel as if we've seen it all. Director Shane Meadows develops adequate courage to craft a crime/thriller/horror/slasher flick as a social commentary. Dead Man's Shoes blends riveting horror, supernatural elements, dark comedy and social realism in relation to modern-day England. Rarely has director Meadow displayed a darker side in his filmmaking. Here he gives full vent to the potentially violent compulsions that lurk within all of us. Dead Man's Shoes is a superlatively efficient, brutal, hard-hitting, stripped-down creation of vigilante cinema.
The story is extraordinarily straightforward, yet this simple plot is conveyed in a gut-wrenchingly effective manner. Richard (Considine) has spent much of his life looking after his mentally-challenged brother Anthony (Kebbell) in the Midlands in England. Richard then joins the army and is shipped away for several years of service. Years later, Richard is a disaffected soldier who returns to his homeland. Revenge is the sole thought on his mind. He wants to dish out vengeance to a local group of druggies who abused his brother. At first Richard wishes to scare the miscreants by stealing their possessions and utilising paint for a laugh. Following these harmless warnings, Richard starts to get serious. He begins to elaborately and gruesomely execute these local tough guys as flashbacks reveal the full extent of his Anthony's mistreatment.
Dead Man's Shoes contains little in the way of director Meadows' trademark provincial humour; nevertheless the film embraces his distinctive signature. This isn't an Americanised version of Britain, occupied with hard-nut gangsters pretending to be Goodfellas. Instead the hustlers presents are benefit-scammers and dole moles that live in semi-detached houses, flick through grotty magazines, dress improperly and flog poor quality gear.
The depiction of contemporary England pulls no punches. It's a grotty, uncompromising picture with a depressing atmosphere. This raw revenge flick is essentially a slasher that revolutionises the genre. No longer do we have brainless Friday the 13th-style deaths with impeccable timing and helpless victims...we see the film prominently from the killer's perspective. Meadows humanises the victims and the killer who's pursuing them: there are palpable motives and realistic character depictions.
Meadows aimed to convey a point regarding revenge and the futility of counter-violence. Giving the killer a deep persona helps personify this message. As Richard implements his bloody revenge, he's shown searching for reason and resolution in an endeavour to obtain a spiritual counter-weight. Actor Considine, who also co-wrote the script with Meadows, manages to express this maelstrom of internal conflict with a razor-raw edge; his agitation rankles like a wound that won't close.
Furthermore, the killings are done extremely effectively. Instead of dwelling on the gore, ala Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street, the gore is used sparingly. Meadows relies on suspense and realistic acting instead of gory deaths that look stupid but reward the gore-hounds. If you're searching for a gory flick, look elsewhere. This is an innovative slasher that disregards the clichés and creates a provocative social commentary. The result is a thoughtful, possibly controversial horror film unlike anything preceding it.
Dead Man's Shoes is a naturalistic horror/thriller with much of Meadows' customary techniques in evidence. At times there is improvised dialogue to further solidify the film's realism. It almost feels like documentary footage as it oozes haunting pragmatism in the compelling images. It's a low-budget feature and by golly it does feel like it at times. The audio mix in particular sounds so naturalistic that it sometimes never feels like an official movie. Meadows' approach, which was to make the film outside a studio system, allows him freedom to do what he wants. He doesn't have studio heads hovering around him, paranoid about a scene and begging him to remove it. On top of this, the confronting flick is blessed with a melancholy and atmospheric score. It's overbearing at times, but this increases the film's emotive qualities. Throughout the entire film, the music sets the tone. The music is particularly moving and effective during the flashbacks or at the mere mention of Anthony's name.
It's truly a knockout movie that will stun you with its unfathomable power.
Perhaps Meadows' sole mistake was that the improvised dialogue occasionally felt quite awkward and unbelievable. However, whenever Considine appears he forms a magnetic centre around which the others can happily orbit. The acting skills exhibited by Considine are amazing. He made his searing film debut in the 1999 Shane Meadows film A Room for Romeo Brass. Since then, he's reached the status of one of England's best actors. His performance here is just amazing. Never does he tread a wrong foot or strike a false note. In a sense, his character is England's answer to De Niro in Taxi Driver.
Toby Kebbell's character is subject to some confusion. Many features relating to Kebbell as the mentally-challenged brother are open for interpretation. Perhaps in a slasher this is slightly out of place. Still, Kebbell's performance is impeccable.
The rest of the supporting cast carry out their duties. While being stalked by Considine's Richard, their fear is palpable. They are realistic characters that are played extraordinarily well by a capable cast of relative unknowns.
Overall, Dead Man's Shoes is proof that the British film industry is still alive and thriving. The film was literally made on a zero-dollar budget. With talent like this behind the camera making films on a budget like this, there's a bright future for both contemporary cinema and British filmmaking. The film may occasionally seem generic and predictable; nevertheless the film cleverly transcends its genre and it emerges as one of 2004's best movies. It's powerful, intense, thrilling and unbelievably riveting.
"God will forgive them. He'll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can't live with that."