“God will forgive them. He’ll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can’t live with that.”
I’ve seen Dead Man’s Shoes countless times and it still gets me every single time I revisit it. The reason? Paddy Considine.
Considine plays Richard, an ex-soldier who returns to the quiet of his hometown to take revenge on the gang who bullied his younger brother. It’s been seven years since he left and the gang of housing estate wannabe-gangsters have taken Richard’s slightly simple-minded brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) under their wing and have been using him for their own cruel amusement. Through gritty black and white flashbacks we become aware of just how sadistic the gang have been to Anthony since Richard’s departure, especially the group’s vain leader Sonny (Gary Stretch).
But this isn’t just like any other revenge flick. Despite being advertised as a gory slasher – and it delivers in that respect occasionally – the storytelling is far superior and intelligent to most standards in this genre.
Considine is different class as Richard, the silent protector who obviously has his own demons when we first meet him. At the beginning of the movie he is shrouded in mystery but when he has his first encounter with Herbie, the groups drug trafficker, we get to see our first glimpse into the hate and anger that he holds barren inside him. Then in the next scene when he approaches Herbie he changes completely and it’s this innate ability to switch between two characters that is terrifying. It leaves us hanging throughout the movie wondering which Richard is going to show up next.
Despite his vile acts as he picks off each of the gang we still root for Richard even when it becomes completely apparent that the gang he’s going after aren’t quite the villainous bastards we think they are at the beginning of the movie. Apart from Sonny, all the other gang members are actually quite funny and likeable. This is more about Richard and Sonny and these lowlifes have just got caught in the traffic.
Like his previous and forthcoming efforts, Meadows keeps everything raw and lets the storytelling do the work for him. It’s obvious some of the scenes have been improvised and it works perfectly in trying to capture the reality and spontaneity of the situation. Meadows doesn’t pull any punches but he also doesn’t go overboard either. He manages to find the perfect blend of revenge thriller and morality tale and Considine’s performance sets it alight.
Meadows also discovered a gem in Toby Kebbell who would go on to bigger and brighter things in Hollywood working with the likes of Steven Spielberg on War Horse and Ridley Scott on The Counsellor. 2015 and 2016 are set to be even bigger years for Kebbell as he appears as Dr. Doom in The Fantastic Four reboot and Duncan Jones’ Warcraft. Kebbell’s subtle yet powerful portrayal as the mildly mentally handicapped Anthony helps keep Dead Man’s Shoes grounded and gives us the emotional sincerity it would otherwise be lacking. The twist at the end is the icing on the cake that unfortunately I already knew about going in but it didn’t alleviate the blow any lighter when it was revealed. I won’t spoil it for you here so go watch it now!
Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter