Dead Man's Shoes

Certificate: 18
Running time:  90 mins
Director: Shane Meadows
Starring: Paddy Considine, Gary Stretch, Toby Kebbell
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Country: UK

Richard (Considine) has returned home from the military to find that his younger brother Anthony (Kebbell) who has a mental disability has fallen into the wrong group of friends which has led to them taking advantage of Anthony in a way that Richard can not abide.  Putting his training to use in the urban environment of the Midlands he stalks the group of men before picking them off one by one.

While reviewing Death Sentence thoughts obviously turned to other recent vigilante offerings and inevitably to Dead Man’s Shoes.  Shane Meadows is without doubt one of the most interesting directors operating in the UK, rarely does he operate within the same genre twice in a row and there is always something deeply original and true to his work.  Paddy Considine, similarly, has a wide range in his ability and in co-writing the screenplay with Meadows (not to mention his recent offering Tyrannosaur) is a genuine creative talent.  The screenplay of Dead Man’s Shoes is a masterclass in ‘How to write within the confines of a formally structured genre while remaining original’ as it hits all the expected/demanded points you find in a vigilante/vengeance thriller but does so in a way that shows the freshness and originality of the writing.  Telling the story across two separate and distinct timelines it creates a degree of mystery in the proceedings.  The audience is 90% sure that the marked men deserve what’s coming to them but there’s always the chance that Richard is suffering from PTSD or simply crazy and stalking old school friends.  Gradually the events between Richard’s departure and return are revealed allowing the audience to relax and enjoy the mayhem.

Few things are as genuinely terrifying as the idea of a masked intruder in your home, what Dead Man’s Shoes understands is that the everyday is far more terrifying than the original.  This is an old concept that’s been forgotten by a lot of film makers.  For example Ghost Face in Scream is a highly theatrical character, the costume (though available at all good fancy dress stores) does not belong to the world he/she inhabits and in turn isn’t scary.  Michael Myers (Halloween) on the other hand is dressed in overalls and very much belongs to the world he inhabits and in doing so can be related with a lot more and is therefore terrifying.  The costuming of Richard in gas mask and army jacket is a beautiful touch as it allows the audience not just to relate to Richard (as he is not an affluent man but an angry one and is using what he has) but also relate to his victims as we are familiar with his attire and can easily imagine experiencing it in that context and it’s frightening.  This is not only a forgotten key to a good thriller but an essential aspect to the vigilante sub genre and works flawlessly throughout the film.

The cinematography is all important as the world seems to take on a different tint depending on Richard’s mood, such is his skill set he has been given through armed service, it’s understandable that if he’s in a dark mood the world will look a little bit bleaker for you.  When with Anthony he’s framed, more often than not, centre screen a light brightly reflecting how his brother feels towards him.  Richard has always been a beckon of light and the centre of Anthony’s world, his older brother was the safe arm around his shoulder that would protect him.  This was only reinforced when Richard left and is apparent in Meadows framing and use of lighting.  Likewise when Richard is dressed for “work” he lives off centre of shot, in the edges of the mise-en-shot and surrounded in shadows.  His presence under the stairs in a crowded house as the men attempt to piece together what is going on not only highlights his bravery and confidence that they are no match for him but also how predatory he is and how silent he will be when he strikes…ONE DOWN!

Meadows also knows how to get the best out of his performers, take Gary Stretch (Sonny) for example.  This former boxer and male model’s back catalogue includes Mega Shark Vs. Crocosaurus and The Heavy (alongside Vinny Jones – enough said) and like most people coming into acting from another profession suffers from the problem of awareness.  In The Heavy, though he has his moments, for the most part you can see the process of acting through the performance but not here.  In Dead Man’s Shoes Stretch is brilliant, even before you’re able to establish his guilt you’ve got a concrete disliking for him.  His strut and cocky assured way of carrying himself is reminiscent of so many people growing up that you can’t help but know him yet at the same time you know that the bravado his sends out into the world is a thin slip covering his fears and insecurities which makes him more dangerous than his macho persona ever could.  Stretch has never been better and the gradual deterioration as Richard tears down his mini empire brick by brick is brilliant.  Shots juxtaposing the carefree Sonny while Richard was in service and the present only go to prove the quality that he can provide when it’s directed correctly.  Toby Kebbell (as Anthony) is also remarkable.  Having watched him in Anton Corbijn’s Control and RocknRolla you would have to look extremely hard to recognise him in Dead Man’s Shoes.  The simplicity of his performance is probably the most beautiful thing in the film, this is not an Oscar winning performance of a man with learning difficulties this is a realistic performance and there’s a big difference between the two.  Kebbell’s interactions with Considine show not just the softer side of Considine’s character but also the softer side of the writing.  It’s important in a film as brutal as this one that it’s heart is soft and real and the conversations between the brothers give the film and the actions a purpose that’s much needed. 

Last but by no means least is Considine himself.  The man’s talent in front of the camera is something that is all too often overlooked due just how naturalistic he is in front of it.  In My Summer of Love, Red Riding and The Bourne Ultimatum he gives three excellent performances that go largely unnoticed because of how effortless he is.  The difference between these three and Dead Man’s Shoes is that he’s asked to carry DMS, this is his film in more ways than one.  His moments with his brother are touching, his stature in his ‘kill suit’ is frightening but the genuine brilliance of him in this performance are the cracks that he creates.  The scene in the snooker hall is a perfect example of how so much rage has been bottled into too small a vessel, and though his outburst is intentional to get the attention of one of his prey you can see that he is truly boiling over and only just controlling his aggression.  As the film progresses the cracks begin to increase and is clear that Considine (as actor and character alike) is enjoying the scenarios that are unfolding as his gas masked vigilante dishes out the justice.  The sequence between him and Tuff (played by Paul Sadot) and another member of the gang in the Midlands flat with a spiked pot of tea and a suitcase not only displays the rage contained within the man (a must in order to take justice into your own hands) but is also riddled with dark humour and with repeat viewings is one of the scenes you laugh with expectation of.  It’s wonderfully dark, undeniably fun, brutal and hits the right tone with audiences as both fear and pleasure wrestle for dominance.
The only criticism with Dead Man’s Shoes is in the final act as it does lapse into the predictable formula of the genre but in saying that the work it has done to lead up to this means it earns the right to do so and fittingly is perhaps the right thing to do in order to reconnect with the audience.

A hard hitting and bleakly rewarding thriller that grabs you from the get go and screams in your face through blood and broken teeth.  Well worth a watch.


A hero never dies said...

Great review of an excellent film John, this hit me hard when I first saw it. Just one question, who is this Constantine fella you mention?

John Baxter said...

LMAO *waves fist in the air* damn you spellcheck! Damn you and your refusal to accept names!!

Cheers for the heads up, couldn't see that for looking.

Ty said...

Love Paddy Considine and this movie. Did you ever see PU-239? He puts in another excellent performance.

John Baxter said...

I've been meaning to rewatch it actually, I wanted to write about it but it's not familiar enough in my mind. He's exceptional.

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