Shane Meadows at his finest: Dead Man’s Shoes

Let me start by saying this – from the age of six or seven my mum would take me into town every Sunday and let me rent a couple of videos from Blockbusters, and in those early years when I sa

Let me start by saying this – from the age of six or seven my mum would take me into town every Sunday and let me rent a couple of videos from Blockbusters, and in those early years when I saw a movie that I liked, as soon as the credits rolled I would hit stop, rewind, and then watch the whole thing over again. I’m not joking when I say that no one has seen the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie more times than I have.

Anyway, this kind of wore off as I grew up. I still watch movies over and over, but certainly not instantly after they have finished…that was until yesterday.

I hit play. The movie started. The movie ended. I sat in the dark for a couple of minutes before reaching for the remote and hitting play for the second time that night, and for the first time in decades I enjoyed a back-to-back showing of what I consider to be a true, British masterpiece.

More than a common slasher

Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes is a genuinely dark tale of retribution and violence, but is also far more than just your common slasher flick. It’s a stripped-back, distinctive portrayal of a brother’s obsession for revenge against a group of small-town thugs and crooks, with some of the finest on-screen performances that you are ever likely to see.

Former Parachute regiment squaddie Richard (Paddy Considine) returns to his hometown in the Midlands to confront a group of small-time criminals who have been abusing his much-loved, and mentally-impaired little brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell).

The opening scenes of Richard’s emotionless face and determined strides over the Derbyshire countryside, shadowed by the almost stumbling gait of his younger brother, perfectly set the tone for the journey Shane Meadows is about to take you on. His relentless steps towards his idyllic little hometown have an edge to them, and we find out through flashbacks later on in the film exactly what it is that has occurred to make Richard return home.

Nearly soiled myself

We see small-time drug dealer Herbie run into Richard first, and he naively confronts Richard’s cold stare with bravado, and Richard’s very first line is an absolute corker. Now, I have heard the ‘C’ word used in all sorts of contexts and delivered in many different tones, but never in my life have I heard anyone deliver it with such force that I nearly soiled myself.

Richard, however, apologises shortly afterwards, shakes his hand and sends Herbie on his way with the seeds of dread firmly planted in his head. Herbie scurries off around the town, informing his fellow gangster wannabes of Richard’s return, and the look in their eyes lets us know in no uncertain terms that a part of each of them has been dreading this for some time. Their feelings of guilt and fear seem to almost seep through the screen.

Simply put, they know who he is, they know why he is back, and very quickly things start to go very wrong. It’s told from their point of view, and their absolute terror almost makes you feel sorry for them. Almost.

Entrenched in magnetic realism

Richard starts to put his military training to brutal effect. First of all it is creepy, but also very funny pranks involving spray paint and a mask, but then Shane Meadow’s showcases his talent for changing gear in real style. Bodies begin to hit the floor, and in ways which are chillingly savage and brutal – but always entrenched in magnetic realism.

This film doesn’t concern itself with the well-worn paths of other genre-specific pieces. Those constraints are lifted by the simplicity of the plot and confidence of the director to tell this story in his own unique style. It goes where it wants, when it wants and how it wants. It’s gruesome, complex and at times almost completely heart-breaking.

Paddy Considine, who you may have seen in Hot Fuzz and The Bourne Supremacy, is an absolute tour-de-force. In one scene where the gang’s leader, Sonny, approaches Richard in order to confirm that he is back in town in order to get even, and to try and intimidate him. The look in Richard’s eyes is so cold, yet filled with seething fury that you could believe he has been served up by Hell itself.

In turn, Toby Kebbell’s performance as Richard’s vulnerable little brother is just as impressive. The torment he suffers at the hands of Sonny and his gang is heart-wrenching due to the realistic nature in which it is portrayed, and as we learn of just how much Anthony has suffered, the tides of sympathy for the hunted crooks are stemmed by our own eagerness for Richard punish his brother’s tormentors.

Brilliantly nasty and unsettling

This isn’t for the faint of heart, and it may not be one to watch with you girlfriend if she is a massive fan of The Notebook and has all of the Glee box-sets. The violence is nasty and unsettling, but Meadows manages to balance it brilliantly. He switches from scenes of jovial banter to hair-raising menace so quickly and so smoothly that you can suddenly find yourself short of breath and hear the blood pumping in your ears.

Gripping, intriguing and distinctive – this is by far the best British film I have ever seen. Even if horror films aren’t your thing, I implore you to give this a chance – you will not be disappointed.

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