So, a friend of mine gave me a copy of DEAD MAN'S SHOES to watch because it is filmed in his home town of Matlock. I was not entirely thrilled. I have a well-known aversion to parts of the United Kingdom that lie outside Zone One of Central London, and it's not like I don't have enough movies to watch every day. I couldn't have been more stupid.
First off, the countryside surrounding the small town of Matlock looks stunning, and comes complete with a castle. It is captured in all its drama and sinister quietude by cinematographer Danny Cohen. Second, this movie takes the conventional revenge story and gives it a really novel re-telling. Paddy Considine, an outstanding actor, plays Richard. While he was in the army, his mentally retarded kid-brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) fell in with a bunch of local goons who abused him terribly. Back from the army, Richard decides to take his revenge: "God will forgive them. He'll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can't live with that." He starts off pulling pranks, but soon the violence escalates. In a much shorter space of time, and with a fraction of the cash used to make that over-blown wreck MUNICH, director Shane Meadows and actor Paddy Considine show us the ravages this necessary revenge unleashes on Richard. In one tiny little scene, we see Richard alone in a bus shelter and he simply closes his eyes. It is hard for me to describe how powerful such a simple action is in the context of this drama.
Another thing I like about DEAD MAN'S SHOES is that the reactions of the goons seems so plausible. These aren't hardened criminals but dumb, weak-minded small-time crooks. And when they aren't being scared shitless, they roam the country in a comedy 2CV and use the kind of jargon we'd expect from our mates down the pub of a Friday night. This sort of familiar environment makes the brutal and casual violence even more dramatic.
If I have any criticisms of the film they lie in the fact that, presumably due to lack of cold hard cash, a lot of the special effects look a bit ropey. The old cine-film used to show Richard and Anthony as kids is authentic and looks it, but the black and white recreations of "time past" are rather poorly done. Sometimes the poor make-up can detract from the unfolding drama. However, if these unfortunate lapses in production quality prevent DEAD MAN'S SHOES from being a great film, it remains a fascinating piece of British drama, and well worth checking out.
DEAD MAN'S SHOES premiered at Edinburgh 2004 and played at festivals throughout 2005. It goes on limited release in the US on May 12th 2006. It is also available on Region 2 DVD complete with the superb bitter-sweet comedy short film, NORTHERN SOUL.