Another outing from the seemingly ‘can’t-lose’ stable of writer-director Shane Meadows. If you enjoyed This is England (2006), and are tempted to view some of his back-catalogue, you may well heed my warning – this is a genuinely unpleasant watch.
This is England was menacing and often a little depressing, but Dead Man’s Shoes ratchets these factors up to 11. It is no exaggeration to tell you that my heart was beating a fair bit faster than usual in a number of scenes. The mix of adrenaline and pity is indeed a strange one, and not something I’d normally do in the name of entertainment.
This film, however, is not about entertaining. There is a ‘message’. Only one, and writ so large across the screen, you’d need to be a member of a boy band to not get it. For those such people, the message is “do as you would be done by, because when the payback comes, it’s going to hit you. Hard”. A film entirely based on inhumanity and retribution, there’s barely a dull moment, even when nothing actually appears to be happening.
A disillusioned and weary ex-soldier Richard (co-writer Paddy Considine) returns to a dull, grimy northern England town with his brother, Anthony (Toby Kebbell). They camp out in an old farm just outside the town, brooding on old scores that need settling. From an ambling start, the moment Richard and Anthony meet a small-time drug dealer, Herbie (Stuart Wolfenden) you know from just a brief exchange exactly how things will go down. Or at least, you may think you do.
As is often the case, Meadows uses some really rather jaunty banter and edgy humour to lighten the load for the poor, battered viewer. This does work very well, but I’m not convinced that it isn’t simply a trick to make what is to come worse still.
For a film with so many well-crafted set pieces, there a a couple that stand out. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the suspense or intrigue for you, but the scene where Herbie’s gang are all tripping out of their minds on drugs is well-shot enough to actually feel quite sickening, and Richard’s meeting with the gang’s leader Sonny (Gary Stretch) simply crackles with tension.
Not a film for pizza night with the kids for sure, but a very rewarding experience.