Written by: Daniel Hadley
Director: Shane Meadows
Cast: Paddy Considine, Gary Stretch
I remember back in 2004 when I first got Dead Man’s Shoes on DVD, after it had finished and the credits had played out I hit play again and watched it through for a second consecutive time. Having seen it many more times since then it never fails to stir up my emotions. I’ll fully admit that the first time I saw this movie I cried: yes there it is my full confession. But trust me when I say if you get through the final act of this movie without even so much as a whimper, well if you aren’t emotionally dead inside, then you’re on your way down a much darker path.
Dead Man’s Shoes seems like a very simple tale of revenge. Richard returns home from service in the military to avenge the mistreatment of his younger mentally retarded brother at the hands of a gang of local drug dealers. With his brother staying close by his side as he steam rolls his way through these ill prepared, ill equipped so called tough guys. Like I said, it seems simple but there is much more at play just under the surface and as the minutes tick by, and more and more information comes to light the film becomes decidedly more complex as it deals with loss, grief, guilt and how the human mind can fracture under the weight of so much turmoil.
The violence on display here is quick, brutal and never glorified. Richard takes no pleasure in the terrible things he’s doing but he won’t stop until he executes every last one of the men who tormented his younger brother; what kind of soldier Richard was in the army is never really explored, but it’s clear that he’s a very skilled killer.
While not strictly a horror movie, Dead Man’s Shoes has enough qualities of the genre to deem it worthy of the horror classification, though many would call it a revenge thriller. It has a guy who stalks his victims in a grey boiler suit and a gas mask so I think it counts. At the end of the day horror can be so much more than just monsters, gore and murder. The genre is often passed off as juvenile and in a sense I suppose some of the best films of the genre are (when I say juvenile here I don’t mean it as an insult, just wanted to stress that), but on the other side of the coin for every Evil Dead 2 and Hatchet there’s a The Shining or Let The Right One In.
There are some truly rough scenes in this movie. The final act especially is a hard sit. Emotional devastation is piled on by the truckload as one sordid act is revealed after another. The fact that this movie is so grounded makes it all the harder to stomach what you’re seeing on the screen. Even now after watching Dead Man’s Shoes countless times it’s hard to fight the urge to look away, but the movie is so compelling that I push through every time.
Up until the final act you feel as though Richard is – putting it lightly – being a tad excessive in his approach. The gang of drug dealers may come across as assholes every now and then but they’re likable enough in their own way. Well aside from their leader, Sunny who is a complete sociopath, but other than that it’s hard to rationalise Richards actions. As fun as it is watching him dispatch his prey (well I say fun, it’s more deeply unsettling) you can’t help but think he’s not exactly justified in his vengeance. All of this comes to a head in the final scenes of movie, like a gut punch from the Hulk, these final moments hit you hard.
The performances here are all Grade A. Paddy Considine as Richard is phenomenal, his face is just a canvas of rage and guilt. Considine has proved himself again and again to be a fantastic actor, and while he hasn’t quite broken out into the mainstream, he never fails to deliver. Megasharks vs Crocasaurus’s own Gary Stretch (seriously Gary, come on man) is just as good, which makes it all the more baffling that he basically dropped off of the map after this movie. He’s had a few roles here and there but nothing substantial.
Talking about a movie I love is difficult, as I would like nothing more than to splurge all of the details just so I can express how great everything is. But in doing so I would ruin the experience and thanks to the advent of streaming services this movie is now readily available. So please, give this movie ninety minutes of your time, just brace yourself: things will get rough.