Dead Man’s Shoes
2004Director: Shane Meadows
Cast: Paddy Considine, Gary Stretch, Toby Kebbell
hane Meadows’ 2004 British hit, recently released on DVD in North America, is a revenge movie, pure and simple, ultimately nothing more or less, though with all the nasty baggage that label would seem to imply. It’s a film about a guy who wears a gas mask and army jacket while doling out some ostensibly cathartic vigilante justice. If it’s considerably more stylish and marginally smarter than First Blood, well, that’s all the more dangerous: It’s the same old eye-for-an-eye bullshit.
Granted, the desire for retaliation can make for interesting cinema. Two of the most thoughtful films of the past several years are meditations on the morality of revenge. Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River tackled head-on revenge’s dubious place in the American cultural lexicon, upending Kantian notions of intention and consequence. It’s, above all, a study in uncorrectable mistakes, a forceful affront to shoot-first-ask-questions-later arrogance from Dirty Harry himself. Better yet, 2002’s The Son, from Belgium’s Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, cast vengeance front and center as a spiritual poison, and after the most suspenseful chase sequence of the new millennium, found hard-earned solace in—novel concept here—forgiveness.
But these are two very significant exceptions. Generally in movies, redemption is for pussies. Take Todd Field’s In the Bedroom or Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. The former is a well-acted domestic chamber drama that shifts, in its final act, into a trigger-happy revenge fantasy; the latter is a mostly fictitious pseudo-historical piece wherein Gibson paints his face blue and starts a civil war with England (and, suspiciously, takes time in between to poke mean-spirited fun at an effeminate prince) for offing his beloved. Both were celebrated by the taste-making awards groups, in effect endorsing rash, testosterone-fueled violence over more levelheaded (and legal) avenues of justice.
This is likewise the case with Meadows’ movie, which, it’s worth noting, was nominated for the BAFTA’s Best British Film award as well as a slew of other UK honors. Maybe I should find this oddly comforting, if for no better reason than as proof that the U.S. of A. isn’t alone in elevating this sort of hateful trash. Instead, it just strikes me as depressing, especially since Dead Man’s Shoes opens with some mild sparks of promise.
There’s a distinctly British oddball charm present in the opening third or so, far less adept than Danny Boyle (not to mention Lynne Ramsay) but more interesting than Guy Ritchie, at any rate. The film is clearly finding its footing, during which time I could still hold out hope that this might be a quirky, modest look at small-time rabble-rousers. No such luck. Paddy Considine (wonderful in Jim Sheridan’s In America, one-dimensional here) plays Richard, a veritable British Rambo minus the muscles. We learn, via strategically inserted flashbacks, that his mentally disabled little brother was—to some degree or another—fucked with by some older guys while Richard was away in the military, and now big brother is bound and determined to, right, make them pay.
Yawn. Oh, right: In addition to being a revenge movie, this is also a major-twist-that’ll-make-you-see-things-in-a-whole-new-light movie. Meadows’ late surprise isn’t especially hard to spot coming, and reeks of Memento mixed with an obvious dose of Shyamalan. (Spoiler Alert!) The poor little brother’s dead, apparently left to die by said older guys as (I guess?) a cruel joke on the “slow kid.” At various points in Dead Man’s Shoes, we see the two brothers together in the present-tense, bonding at Richard’s hermit cottage, while we’re later left to assume that either the person we saw was a ghost or Considine’s character has gone crazy and we’ve awkwardly taken on his unreliable point of view. Such dumb manipulation is par for the course here. A change-of-heart in the final scene isn’t nearly enough to excuse Meadows’ bland romanticization of revenge nor his painting of Richard as a bold antihero. This is a rotten movie, and an offensive one, to boot.
Dead Man’s Shoes is now available on DVD.
By: Josh Timmermann
Published on: 2006-10-10