I’ve seen a fair amount of messed up flicks in my day, and at their most unrestrained and ruthless, I’ve been forced to wash my eyes and brain for a good long while just to rid myself of the imagery. You know, the deformed bodies, a woman being skinned alive, inhumane harm to children and pregnant women, all of it, and what I’ve listed isn’t even the half of it. So, as a fan of this material, a few friends and fellow site-runners urged me for quite some time to watch “Dead Man’s Shoes.” A film I’ve heard in passing that supposedly is extremely difficult to watch, while remaining fairly potent and eerily memorable. Sounds like it’s right up my alley, don’t you think? Yet for some reason, I never, ever got around to watching it. So, I continued along with my life as usual, until The Cinematic Katzenjammer‘s Secret Santa Swap popped up again and I, of course, signed up for a second helping. And wouldn’t you know it, “Dead Man’s Shoes” was the film selected for me!
What did I think of it, you ask? Well, it’s certainly not an easy flick to sit through, that’s for sure, but for significantly different reasons then the aforementioned brutality. “Dead Man’s Shoes” follows Richard (Considine) and his mentally impaired brother Anthony (Kebbell) as they move around the countryside, taking refuge in abandoned farms and places of this nature. Richard, a respectable war-vet, has returned to his hometown after completing his service. Through a series of flashbacks, the reason for Richard’s return is revealed. His brother Anthony, had been continuously abused, taken advantage of, and forced to perform unspeakable acts of inhumanity by a group of drug-dealers, who were supposedly his friends. Richard has vowed to take revenge against anyone who has caused his brother any harm, using any means necessary. The assailants arm themselves to defend against Richard’s onslaught, and soon a war of wits and ferocity unfolds.
I mentioned briefly that “Dead Man’s Shoes” is an uncomfortable film to undertake, and I stand by that statement. That being said, the limits differ greatly than those of pure violence and brutality. What makes this film so cringe-inducing is its disconcerting nature. From the moment it begins, there’s this overwhelming feeling that something bad has happened, a constant calm before the storm. As this hums persistently in the background, the despicable actions of those with no morals, compassion, and humanity slowly unveils itself. The crud, this dirt crawls in between ever crack on your skin and under your nails and is hard to dismiss. Then there’s this gloomy atmosphere that’s impossible to shake that overhangs the entirety of this film. This is due in large part to director Shane Meadows wonderful use of the serene, shady countryside, troubling skies, and contrasting characters that are at one moment merciless, then endearing.
As impressive as the effect created and reactions provoked by this film and it’s makers on such an ultra-low budget is, the real stunner is the performances. “Dead Man’s Shoes” features the tragically underused and under appreciated Paddy Considine in the lead role and a remarkable turn by Toby Kebbell as Anthony. Everything Considine does is authentic, scarily genuine. The camerawork is always panning his eyes and for good reason. When you gaze into his, everything his character feels is transferred through his simple squints, tears, and deathly cold stares. As for Kebbell, his portrayal is anything but textbook. I’m not really sure how to word this. Kebbell acting as a mentally handicapped, sweet, real, compassionate being is one of the most sublime I’ve ever witnessed. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more uncanny, driven portrayal.
The impression left and mindset gained from “Dead Man’s Shoes” are permanent and irreplaceable. The performances are something to marvel and the premise is unique and something that has never been this effectively used previously, at least to my knowledge. All this being said, the story is quite predictable, for me anyway, and the visuals, camerawork a little shaky from time to time. However, these flaws are minuscule when compared to the grand scale of the film.
Dead Man’s Shoes: 7.5 out of 10.