British cinema had a stand out year in 2004. Daniel Craig’s performance in Layer Cake has been credited in helping him get the role of James Bond while Simon Pegg’s instant classic Shaun of the Dead made him a Hollywood fixture. Both were deservedly nominated for Best British Actor at the British Empire Awards. The winner? Paddy Considine, who not only starred but co-wrote the revenge thriller Dead Man’s Shoes.Revenge movies are a sub-genre of thriller films that sometimes border on exploitation; they’re almost like adult fairy tale. Most follow familiar beats: something terrible happens to the protagonist, they go on a journey to find retribution, and it ends with the antagonist getting their comeuppance. It’s a cathartic “happy ending” that speaks to a basic human desire for eye-for-an-eye justice.
Dead Man’s Shoes is a revenge film that centers around Richard, a former member of the British Army who has returned to his home town. Richard stays at a farm on the outskirts of the town with his brother Anthony, for whom he has returned home for. As the movie progresses, it reveals more about the relationship between the two.
The narrative structure of Dead Man’s Shoes relies heavily on flashbacks. The scenes set in the present are in color, while the flashbacks are shot in black and white. Interspersed between these scenes are home movies of Richard and Anthony as children shot on Super 8 film. It sounds like it could be disjointed, but the visual queues help keep the narrative straight. Director Shane Meadows intelligently places the flashbacks and home movies into the film to essentially tell two sad stories.While the two stories flesh out Richard’s character, there is no real development, but we do get some insight into his motivations. The flashbacks subtly give a possible reason why he left home and joined the army, and they also tell the story of why Richard has decided to go on his rampage. The present time scenes are there to keep the story moving and nothing more. It’s a unique way to advance a plot of and is done effectively.
Unlike many revenge movies, Dead Man’s Shoes is beautifully shot. Foregoing the dark and gritty atmosphere that is usually seen in these types of films, Meadows instead lingers on the beautiful Derbyshire countryside. Throughout the movie, the audience is treated to long shots of rolling green fields and the peaceful village of Matlock. The overhead shots of the town are gorgeous to look at it and give the viewer a sense of who these characters are. The village seems like a place where everyone knows each other’s names.
Considine’s acting in Dead Man’s Shoes is top notch. Richard is a cold and calculating man who seems to have lost everything. Considine plays the role perfectly. Charm may be too strong of a word to use, but Considine definitely brings a lightness to Richard. He has a sense of humor, but it’s dark and he seems to be the only one to get the sinister punchlines.The rest of the cast do not quite reach Considine’s level, but they do play their parts well. Neil Bell is especially good in his role as Soz, an oblivious drug addict there for comic relief. Bell plays the role so well it’s hard not to like the character.
The script is hit or miss. The story of the two brothers is well told, very sad, and easily sympathetic. Richard’s motivations are well explained and make sense. The plot itself isn’t as clear. The main problem is the large cast. The protagonist of any revenge movie can only do so much before it becomes gratuitous. Dead Man’s Shoes tries to avoid this problem by rushing its pace. While it is well done fairly well, it also downplays the gravity of what Richard is doing. This is most noticeable at the end of the movie, which comes off as anti climatic.
Speaking of endings, there are almost two endings to Dead Man’s Shoes. The ending of the story in the flashback scenes are well told and incredibly emotional. This powerful climax leads to how the two stories interact and an amazing twist. Unfortunately, the movie goes downhill from there. Richard comes to a sudden epiphany that is particularly odd since there has been no character development during the rest of the movie.
Dead Man’s Shoes is one of the better revenge thrillers in a genre that has produced many memorable films. Paddy Considine does an exceptional job and the camera work is stunning. The writing does make some missteps as the movie speeds towards its shocking climax, but overall Dead Man’s Shoes is a movie definitely worth going out of your way to see.
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