Think about it: Your young daughter is gang-raped and killed. Your grandmother is violently beaten. Your son is kidnapped and tortured. All taken advantage of for their inability to defend themselves, and for the ease at which one can commit the evil. Heinous and unforgivable crimes, the worst things you can possibly imagine humans doing to one another. In the real world these criminals disappear into the justice system, often living out their lives fully…and these are the ones that are caught. God, however, will forgive. Can you let that happen? Can you live your life knowing that your daughter, son or grandmother will never truly be avenged? In real life most humans can, and most humans do. This is a movie about one brother who could not.
Director Shane Meadows explores the nuances of revenge in his blistering and powerful film, Dead Man’s Shoes. The story centers on a soldier who has returned to the home of his childhood to get even with a group of degenerate thugs who brutalized his mentally challenged brother. Chock full of wonderful performances and moments of poignant passion and emotion, the film draws you in slowly and by the time the credits roll, you are left with a feeling of redemption that truly mirrors that of the film’s protagonist.
Drawing from the days of his (somewhat misguided) youth, and his experiences with the skinhead lifestyle of the time, Meadows crafts a very real story, which doesn’t take a film snob to tell he has poured his heart into. He knows the topic inside and out. Not only does he have his finger on the subtleties of emotion, he damn well has it poked right down inside, exposing the heart of his subject. What appears a simple plot instead reveals a tale with a complex underbelly of masked emotion, a feat which is testament to a great auteur at the height of his work. Scenes are never wasted, no shots are simple space filler, and while the on-screen violence is quite minimal and not overly gory, what he shows is not only enough, but perhaps deeper than anything he could have presented otherwise.
The characters and performances are all bang-on, and everyone stays true to their respective roles. I was in awe of how deftly the film presents likeable antagonists, all the while slowing revealing a past that changes your perspective entirely. You end up hating these guys, even though you have spent the entire film with them and they seem like nothing but misguided clods. It makes for a realistic and powerful drama, in that it takes until the very last shots to realize they had it coming. The emotions you feel range from confusion and contempt for the protagonist, into a measured transition to sympathy for the brother to contempt for the antagonists. Almost, but not wholly, you switch allegiances partway through the film. Very well done. And these guys seem so real – everyday people, their egos a little inflated, but yet simple and normal human beings – not some group of mindless, iron-hard thugs that are the usual fodder for this type of film.
As mentioned, the simplicity of the film is masked by a more complex, emotive plot that really makes this stand out from the average revenge film. We have all made mistakes, and while we often pay a small price for simple ones, sometimes simple mistakes translate into dire consequences. Here we have a similar idea, that one misguided and spontaneous event leads to a lifetime of remorse. Except, of course, the whole film is pinned upon the fact that the group does not feel this remorse. They have simply forgotten, and hence, the whole event has disappeared for most of them. Until someone it has affected deeply, and who has not forgotten, returns to seek their due. Witness the subtle look on their faces when they all clue into who the brother is, and the change in expression when it dawns on them. Truly great stuff.
Finally, I really loved the ‘folksy’ atmosphere Meadows infuses the entire movie with. Dead Man’s Shoes is best described as a modern folktale, albeit more akin to a Grimm story than Mother Goose. The soundtrack is simple and undemanding, almost like we are meant to lay back and immerse ourselves in the proceedings. This could be a story your grandfather tells you in a heavy accent while sitting in his rocker on the porch.
As you can probably tell, I loved this film. There is an emotional core to the movie that catches your attention and slowly sucks you in. By the end I was quite immersed in the story, and was surprised at how many feelings ran through my head. Did I really feel sympathy for the group of wanna-be thugs? This same group that committed that heinous crime, only to simply forget about it? I did, and you will too. One thing that will not be forgotten anytime soon, however, is this film. It gets my highest possible recommendation – make sure this one is on your list of must-see movies.