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Dead Man's Shoes (2004)

Hes in all of us.

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 86 minutes

UK Certificate: 18


Shane Meadows’ previous film ‘Once Upon a Time in the Midlands’ (2002) was, as its title would suggest, an attempt to transplant the American western onto English soil – but the hybrid which emerged was a disappointing romantic comedy that almost ruined the director’s reputation (carefully built upon the improvised do-it-yourself naturalism of his 1997 debut ‘Twenty Four Seven’ and his 1999 follow-up ‘A Room for Romeo Brass’). Yet his comeback ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’, with its combination of small-town retribution and the supernatural, is far more successful in importing the oater sensibilities of ‘High Plains Drifter’ to the West Country, while bringing back from the dead the sort of hardman grittiness not seen since such seventies classics as ‘Get Carter’, ‘Straw Dogs’ and the ‘Death Wish’ films.

After years of military service abroad, Richard (Paddy Considine) returns to his Midlands village with the sole purpose of avenging his younger, retarded brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell), who had been bullied and humiliated during Richard’s absence by the brutal Sonny (Gary Stretch) and his gang of drug dealers. Over the course of a few short days, as Anthony watches from the shadowy background, Richard first uses nocturnal pranks to unnerve the gang, before threatening them more directly (“I’m gonna fuckin’ hit you all”), and then finally executing them one by one in cold blood. Only Mark (Paul Hurstfield), husband, father-of-two, and the last target on the list, reveals the full monstrosity of Anthony’s treatment, and confronts Richard with his own monstrousness.

At a time when retributive wars in the Middle East have become all the rage, it is unsurprising that revenge has also returned to our cinemas, with recent American films like The Punisher, Man on Fire and the remake of Walking Tall all exhibiting a gung-ho enthusiasm for extrajudicial retaliation (and all featuring protagonists who, like Richard, have a military background). Yet unlike those film’s heroes, Richard is neither a Christ figure (in one scene he expressly denies that he is Jesus – or indeed the Devil), nor an agent of divine justice (the film’s first line is “God will forgive them, He’ll forgive them and allow them into heaven – I can’t live with that”) – and while there is no doubt that his judge-jury-and-executioner attitude towards vigilantism is entirely reactionary, both his morality and his sanity come to be called into question by the film. So ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ walks a fine line in its politics, inviting viewers to revel in the inventive symmetry of Richard’s bloodletting before revealing the bestial irrationality of it all. This may involve a degree of having one’s cake and eating it too, but it is certainly preferable to the unthinking heroisation (if not to say canonisation) of revenge that we have been getting of late from the other side of the pond.

Originally conceived as a comedy, ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ is a powerful drama (although lightly peppered with gallow’s humour) in which a community is revisited by the sins of its past, and forced to pay the price. It is also without doubt Meadows’ finest feature to date – thanks largely to the central performance of his long-time friend (and co-writer) Considine, whose barely contained fury brings a near explosive tension to every scene. Sonny and his thugs are rattled by Richard even before he has begun his violent campaign against them, and the sheer intensity of Considine’s on-screen presence makes it easy to see why. He embodies the kind of unhinged determination not seen since Robert De Niro in his ‘Taxi Driver’ heyday, elevating ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ far beyond its low budget (under three quarters of a million pounds), its makeshift script and its genre roots.

It's Got: Paddy Considine giving a very high-calibre performance (and looking natty in a gas mask); an incredibly well-integrated soundtrack; a lengthy (and unpleasant) trip scene that will have viewers flashing back to the 1970s; a suitcase whose capacity is stretched to its limits; a hard gritty edge and a great deal of tension.

It Needs: Well, it DESERVED recognition at the BAFTAs, if not the Oscars, for Paddy Considines performance - and I certainly would not want to be in the shoes of any of the judges who have crossed him…

DVD Extras Anamorphic 1.85:1; incredibly atmospheric animated menus; scene selection; choice of 2.0/Dolby digital 5.1; full audio commentary by co-writer/director Shane Meadows, co-writer/star Paddy Considine, and producer Mark Herbert (all giggling), revealing that the decision to include Anthony in scenes other than flashbacks was last-minute, that the script changed daily on-set, that the castle was a disused zoo, and that the original ending was too close to Get Carter; nine minutes of commentary out-takes (Easter egg); Optimum trailer reel; What U Sitting On? (remix) music video by Danger Mouse and Jemini; deleted scenes and alternative takes, five in total, including an alternative ending (9min) with a less subtle conversation between Richard and Mark, but a haunting final image of Richard with Anthony; images from Anjan Sarkars graphic novel animation matched to actual dialogue from the films soundtrack (the scene where Herbie first sees the elephant); In Shanes Shoes (24min) documentary featuring the premiere at the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival, interviews with Shane Meadows about run-ins with violent gangs in his youth, and on-location clowning; Northern Soul (26min) also made by Meadows in 2004, and starring Toby Kebbell as an aspiring wrestler with no actual wrestling experience or talent - this comic short is as amateurish as its protagonist, and serves only to show how much better Dead Mans Shoes is. Version reviewed: Optimum Home Entertainment DVD Extras Rating: 8/10


A West Country high plains drifter metes out hard justice to the Midlands in this gritty revenger's tragedy.