Dead Man's Shoes Review
The revenge movie really hit its stride in the age of the video nasty, with many of the titles - such as I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left - remaining notorious to this day. But their particular brand of revenge was about the viscera, most were little more than glorified splatter movies, the idea of revenge being only a spark for a bloodbath to follow - and more often than not an excuse to show more horrors as we see what planted the seed of revenge in the first place. They were brutal, sensationalist, and determined to throw everything possible at the viewer to really earn the title “nasty.” Another popular form is the macho action revenge movie - see The Punisher or A Man Apart - using the need for revenge as an excuse to kill everyone, and destroy everything, remotely connected to some unspeakable wrong. Yet most revenge movies end up lacking, because be they action-revenge movies or horror-revenge movies they always have the agenda of the genre to serve, Dead Man’s Shoes has no such difficulties, because this is just a revenge movie. Pure, hateful, revenge, served chillingly cold.
Richard (Paddy Considine) has returned home after serving his time in the Army, it’s a typical sleepy rural community, the people aren’t rich and they don’t seem to have a lot to do, but Richard seems determined to provide a break from the monotony - for some of them at least. Anthony (Toby Kebell) didn’t make it out of this town with his brother, his learning difficulties not making him a prime candidate for military service, or anything really, and sadly with Richard gone protecting Queen and Country there was nobody left at home to protect Anthony. We don’t know what happened to him while Richard was gone, not yet, but we know who did it. More importantly, so does Richard - gang of wasters; drug dealers and drug users, who are going to live to regret what they’ve done - not for very long - but unfortunately for them Richard isn’t just in town for an execution, he’s planning on taking his time on this hunt.
Dead Man’s Shoes is a film full of surprises, the biggest for me being Paddy Considine. Having only seen him previously in the excellent In America (although he did get his break in Meadows’ earlier A Room for Romeo Brass), Richard’s persona was not what I expected, when you first see him, walking across fields - his brother ambling behind - he looks pretty unassuming, setting up home in an abandoned farmhouse, taking his first trip back to town, everything seems pretty normal with Richard. That lasts only as long as it takes Anthony to point out the first of his tormentors, then we get to see a very different side to Richard, and it’s more than a little intimidating. Considine fills Richard with an eerie, off-putting, detachment; he’s become a man with a singular agenda and he wants everyone to know it. He knows the men that picked on his brother are cowards, bullies usually are - it certainly doesn’t take half a dozen people to torment one handicapped guy. These aren’t strong men, they’re weak, and Richard wants to make sure each and every one of them knows just how small they are before he puts them out of their misery. It’s not that he’s taking pleasure in tormenting them, he just knows that they don’t deserve a swift judgement, he’s decided that these are people that deserve to suffer. He has plenty of chances to do something, most characters in his situation would take a quiet alley as a prime opportunity to settle things, but not Richard, he just sees it as one more chance to mess with someone’s head. The menace Considine manages to manifest without resorting to threats, in fact, while doing nothing but apologising and introducing himself in one case, is spectacular. He’s not a big guy, yet without waving weapons around, or ever raising his voice, he’s totally believable as a guy so intimidating he can keep 5 grown men cowering in a car, just in case they’re the one that says something that makes him snap.
Consadine aside there are many things about the movie that surprise, albeit in differing ways. The film really looks like it had a tight budget, the lighting is largely natural, the film stock is grainy, the most elaborate set is a druggies flat - you can imagine the expense that goes into trashing a bedsit - and much of the film is shot outdoors. What’s most surprising about this is how much of a benefit it is to the film, it doesn’t end up looking like a film that was made cheaply, it just makes things feel disturbingly real. Much of the dialogue also seems improvised, which sadly doesn’t always work, while the actors asked to improvise seem adept at delivering the scripted lines they often flounder with the improvising, making things seems less real rather than more. Thankfully such sections are few and far between, and the only other real criticism that can be thrown at the film is the trite ‘tripping out’ sequence. I really wish filmmakers would stop trying to convey what it feels like to be on drugs, the actors seem to have no problem looking like they’re on a pretty interesting cocktail, and I can’t see why that isn’t enough. Warping the sound and playing with the colour balance doesn’t help us understand what’s going on in their heads, it just feels like first year college students playing in the editing room impressing themselves with how ‘trippy’ it all is.
So while the script and direction may falter slightly, they are really minor points in an otherwise excellent film. Meadows keeps a reign on the violence, though much like Reservoir Dogs you’ll probably walk away from the film feeling like there was much more violence on screen than there really was. The atmosphere created, between Considine’s performance and Shane Meadow’s direction proves easily that the threat of violence is far more traumatic to watch than violence itself, and watching Richard toy with his prey is genuine edge of your seat material. Ending a movie like this can be difficult, especially as the punishment Richard dishes out seems to be far worse than anything the men poured on his brother, but with a final reel that manages to produce not only some traumatic revelations but also an admirably well balanced ending Dead Man’s Shoes manages to side-step yet another dangerous pitfall. It manages to stand as a fantastic advertisement for British movies, and something of an inspiration for film-making on a budget, as well as a real return to form for Meadows after the lack-lustre Once Upon a Time in the Midlands. Stripping away the all star cast and a large part of the budget seems to have focused him on what’s really important, making this film a roaring success.
The film is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, and despite a noticeable level of grain and often lacklustre colours Dead Man’s Shoes looks good on DVD. The grain is probably an unavoidable effect of the tight budget, but the colours do seem intentional, and as noted previously, the look of the film really does help draw you into the story, so whilst the DVD isn’t something to show off the technology, it is perfect for the film.
The sound isn’t quite as good unfortunately, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is very much focused on the front channels, and seems to use largely production audio, making it less striking than the rest of the presentation. There is some use of the rear channels, but often it’s a little overblown and can throw you out of the film somewhat as it demands your attention.
Commentary from Director Shane Meadows, Actor Paddy Considine and Producer Mark Herbert
This commentary is fantastic fun, these three guys are great friends and are having a real laugh here. They all have a lot to say about the film, and there is obviously a lot to talk about given the difficulties of shooting on such a tight budget, and there were a lot of last minute changes to both the cast and the script, which get talked about in detail. The film was written over a mere 8 weeks, and it was re-written constantly over the shoot - and even re-shoots - so in a way it’s pretty incredible it managed to come out even competent, let alone as good as it is.
Deleted Scenes and Alternate Takes
5 scenes are presented here, in non-anamorphic widescreen, and without a ‘play all’ option. Whilst the film is better without them there are actually some rather good scenes here, including Richard spending some time with one of his brother’s tormentors kids, which is really rather creepy - even though they’re actually played by his nephews, it’s pretty disturbing to see him befriend the kids. Although the scenes are provided without commentary, they are largely discussed in the feature commentary track, so you do still get to hear Meadow’s reasoning behind their exclusion.
Graphic Novel Animation
Whilst this could have been a really interesting feature, it’s really just an advertisement for the graphic novel adaptation of the movie. Presented here as a section of the movie’s audio track accompanied by panels from the novel, it is brief, and not the best possible presentation. It would have had much greater impact if this ad had been cut to match the movie trailer itself.
In Shane’s Shoes
This is a great 25 minute look at the making of the movie, consisting in large part of an interview with Shane Meadows. He recounts a rather disturbing story that in many ways led to him writing this film, and the documentary then follows the production through shooting to the premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Whilst it is good to see the shooting footage - Paddy Considine seems to be a real clown on set - it’s the words from Meadows that make this a great watch, he’s an intelligent guy who’s frank with his comments, and he’s not afraid to be critical of himself when talking about his previous work.
This short film came about as a joke at the expense of producer Mark Herbert, Toby Kebbell plays a guy called Mark Sherbert, who gets thrown out by his wife because of his dreams to become a professional wrestler. It’s quite an amusing film, full of ridiculous clichéd training montages, culminating in a rather nasty debut fight, and it’s great to see it included on this disc because short films have such trouble getting seen.
Music Video: What U Sitting On (Remix) by Danger Mouse and Jemini
The soundtrack to Dead Man’s Shoes has been getting quite a lot of attention, so we get a track from it here. I thought it was one of the weaker tracks in the film, but at least it has an original - animated - video, though it is oddly presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, with white borders.
The disc also carries the original theatrical trailer, along with trailers for Switchblade Romance, Shaolin Soccer, 9 Songs, and The Street Fighter: Box Set.
Dead Man’s Shoes is a remarkable film, gripping, surprising, and remarkably powerful, you really won’t be able to look away, as much as you want to. The film is reasonably presented on this disc, and carries some genuinely interesting special features, which put most polished Hollywood special editions to shame.