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Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) Movie Retro Review by John Walsh

DEAD MANS SHOES

Director: Shane Meadows
Writers: Paddy Considine, Shane Meadows
Stars: Paddy Considine,  Gary Stretch, Toby Kebbell

Having recently rewatched a film that I’d honestly rank in my all-time top twenty, I now feel the need to try and spread the word about this British, indie, cult classic which sadly has never gotten the love it deserves. The film I’m talking about is 2004’s Dead Mans Shoes. Directed by Shane Meadows, a man that’s more famous for his ‘This is England’ films. It doesn’t feature an all star cast or even a traditional A-list lead actor, but don’t let this dissuade you any, because it has an engrossingly, simple, little story that never grows old even after a dozen viewings.

It focuses almost entirely on Richard (Paddy Considine), a disaffected soldier who upon returning to his hometown, discovers that his younger, disabled brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) has been on the receiving end of bullying from a manipulative group of goons. Made up of petty criminals and drug peddlers, and led by the wannabe gangster Sonny (Gary Stretch), they are borderline untouchable within their local community and almost completely unaware of the pain about to be inflicted upon them. The first time we see Richard is when he turns up at an apartment block dressed in an army boiler suit and full blown gas mask to terrorise three of the gang members in the midst of a cocaine fuelled get together. He somehow manages to get inside the building before nicking a bag full of drugs in the confusion that ensues before disappearing without a trace.

And when he has a tense war of words at a local pub with Herbie (Stuart Wofenden), the man spooked from the night before, it doesn’t take long for the latter to put two and two together and pass on his concerning realisation that Richard is the man terrorising them. What follows is perhaps one of my favourite scenes in a film period. At some point during the night, Richard clearly breaks into several of the groups houses, painting Sonny’s face in the style of a clown and also spray painting insults on two of the elder members jackets. This leads to a hilarious altercation after they all converge upon the latter’s house, learning of their joint misfortune and then being told the unsettling news of their soon to be nemesis’ return. The sight of six grown men, packed into a tiny car pulling up to a semi-deserted street where Richard stands alone, with his brother watching from afar, has to be seen to be believed.

The discussion that follows is both brutal in its honesty, humorous for Richards laid back, frank, delivery and also absolutely pivotal in the story. It proves to be the turning point from what is a fairly slowish start and kicks off a systematic culling of the group. Sonny, trying to appear calm, collected and in control, is left in no doubt whatsoever that he is completely out of his depth. This is all but confirmed shortly afterwards when one of his goons is brutally murdered with an axe right under his and the others noses. They try to hit back immediately, of course, in a brief moment of misplaced bravery. But only manage to accidentally shoot the other elderly chap in the head, in a failed attempt at a trap, whilst an unflinching Richard calmly approaches them with an axe.

Despite the full horrors of what actually happened to Anthony being laid bare via a fairly slow trickle of flashbacks scenes, darted throughout the film, you never really find yourself questioning the morality of the increasingly brutal murders that take place at the hands of Richard. He’s something of an anti-hero, admittedly, but I was rooting for him to take out the Sonny led gang and even laughed at the manner of one particular death. Thankfully Meadows rewards the audience for this unflinching loyalty when the actual extent of the abuse that took place is properly revealed towards the very end of the film. There’s a truly shocking and heart wrenching twist at this moment  too which I dare not spoil because I honestly rate it up there with the Sixth Sense in terms of how good it is and the effect it has. It should be experienced first hand to really be appreciated. Needless to say, Sonny’s inevitable downfall is both poetic and memorable.

Paddy Considine delivers a stellar performance as the vengeful Richard. Having seen him in several films since, I would rate this as his best performance. He brought real emotion to the character and he’s one of the primary reasons I enjoy this film so much. Toby Kebbell has went on to be a fine actor, and watching this, it’s really no surprise. If you were to have told me that he was genuinely suffering from a disability, then I would have believed you, such is the standard of his performance. Just about everyone in this film is perfectly cast and there’s a real strong ensemble performance with no real notable poor exceptions springing to mind. Ex-professional boxer, Gary Stretch, in particular does very well as Sonny, the main villain of sorts.

I really can’t recommend this film enough. It has such a well written story, that manages to perfectly combine humour, sadness and sheer bloody violence. The soundtrack is incredible too and well worth a listen. If you haven’t seen this film then do yourself a favour and get it watched.

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