Grim and Grimmer
|Starring:||Paddy Considine, Gary Stretch, Toby Kebbell, Stuart Wolfenden, Paul Hurstfield|
For the past few months I’ve been stuck in a rut of average movies. It seems like I’ve given a 2 ½ star rating to the last 100 films (give or take a few) I’ve reviewed. Often 2 ½ stars are bestowed upon movies that don’t leave much of an impression, and they’re usually frustrating to write about since a strong opinion, one way or the other, doesn’t exist. Director Shane Meadow’s film “Dead Man’s Shoes” is the proverbial exception to the rule. This just may be the most unforgettable film I will see in 2006.
A revenge tale void of even the smallest perverse pleasure, “Dead Man’s Shoes” could be the most unflinchingly nihilistic film I’ve ever encountered. I’ll admit the 2 ½ star rating is largely a cop-out — this is really either a 2 or 3 star movie…but I’m at a loss to know which it is. On one hand, I admire Shane Meadows’ and star/co-writer Paddy Considine’s absolute refusal to soften their film’s grim viewpoint. On the other, it’s usually not a good sign when a movie leaves you with the feeling you’ve just been pummeled.
Stories don’t get much more austere than this one. When he returns to his rural British hometown after serving time in the Army, Richard (Paddy Considine) seeks revenge on a group of drug dealing thugs who tormented his simple-minded younger brother, Anthony (Toby Kebbell). We know Richard means business right away when he chillingly threatens a low level member of the gang, Herbie (Stuart Wolfenden), in a jolting early scene. Word of the incident reaches the gang’s ostensible leader, Sonny (Gary Stretch), and Richard is immediately confronted.
Richard, however, doesn’t hide his intentions. In fact, he makes them explicitly clear, basically challenging Sonny and his gang to see who will be the last man standing in their village. And then with frightening ease and extreme savagery — including one memorable scene when three gang members are executed while on a bad acid trip — Richard makes his threats a very ugly reality. Even Mark (Paul Hurstfield), a man who has long disassociated himself with the gang and now has a wife, kids, home, etc., can’t escape Richard’s wrath.
The film takes place over the course of five days (indicated by title cards), and intercut with the unfolding events are gritty black and white flashbacks of the abuse Anthony suffered. Whether or not Richard’s punishment fits the gang’s crime isn’t really an issue — Meadows sidesteps any questions about the morality of vengeance by making Richard’s actions so extreme and also economic. He’s an amalgamation of John Rambo, Travis Bickle and Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson’s character in the “Death Wish” series) minus any of the brutal heroism. Excluding Anthony, and maybe Mark, none of these characters elicit the least bit of sympathy, nor do you ever find yourself rooting for Richard, who’s the kind of person you’d flee from at top speed if you crossed his path in a dark alley. If I haven’t yet made the point clearly enough, this is bleak stuff — so bleak that in spots I’ll admit to wondering how this film even found financing.
The thugs prove to be fairly harebrained, which is the primary reason Richard is able to do away with them so effortlessly, but only on one occasion did I find their actions (or lack thereof) to be totally implausible, which is a good batting average for this kind of movie. The film’s violence is pervasive, although there’s not an excessive amount of blood (however, one particularly disturbing image rattled my mind for a while). And, as mentioned above, while the film does beat the viewer up, it does so in a clean, quick fashion, as opposed to a movie which aims to repeatedly kick you in the gut (“Once Were Warriors” immediately comes to mind)…which is probably the strangest compliment I’ve paid a film since I started reviewing them.
Anyone who has seen Meadow’s previous film “Once Upon a Time in the Midlands” (a comedy of all things!) should brace themselves for something extremely different. You definitely won’t be laughing at any point during this one.