‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ celebrates it’s tenth birthday this year, but we hope that it’s not a big celebration! I watched this film because the work of Shane Meadows was absent from my film knowledge and I thought that I should do something about that…but oh how I regret thinking that. I found the film to be an absolute abysmal disaster from start to finish, just terrible and yet the film received rave reviews ten years ago! I think they walked into a different screen. Let me tell you what makes this so awful in my eyes.
I’d also like to say before I get started that I’m a massive fan of Paddy Considine and the work he did after this, both as director and actor. His feature film ‘Tyrannosaur’ (2011) was a revelation and ironically what he tried to do with this film, at least he got it right second time round. It’s important to mention that ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ is indeed shot very nicely and lit beautifully, but the story that is told is just weaker than weak. There is no depth to the fragmented story. The film which is broken down into a number of days, fails to register on any scale. There is no need for the breakdown of days it has zero storytelling function. The film follows Considine’s character as he lays waste to gang members who abused his mentally disabled brother, which eventually led to him committing suicide, while Considine’s character was away serving. As he kills the members one by one he tries to inflict the same cruelty to them that they inflicted upon his brother. How he knew exactly what went on in the flashbacks we are shown, while he was overseas, is anyone’s guess.
Some people will say that to be critical of an early work of Meadows is in bad taste as he was still learning his craft, but this was his fourth feature film! I know that at my level at film school I would have been ripped apart and mauled by my teachers had I done some of the down right terrible things that are in this movie. But back to the story, which is incomprehensible throughout, the pacing is all wrong. Meadows and Considine, the co writers, try to feed us information about the dark reasons why Considine’s character is taking out full vigilantly justice on the gang members. The reason for this feeding of information, is because we are unaware of why he is killing them at the beginning. However, the constant flashbacks throughout the film make it impossible for the viewer to understand what actually happened. For some strange reason, during these flashbacks, they also chose to turn the dialog down, warp it, and also shoot it in black and white. The classic ‘dumb ass’ technique of ‘oh it must be the past because it’s in black and white’ is in full force here. But the total irony is because of the chosen sound aesthetic we don’t really know what the hell is actually going on.
Meadows and Considine were clearly going for the classic ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976), small ordinary man rights the wrongs that have been done to a person of weak standing. Maybe if a Paul Schrader type had written the screenplay, we would have a British classic in the mold of ‘Taxi Driver’ on our hands but we don’t have that luxury here. We have ANOTHER tiresome gritty British gangster film, trying to be art house and commercial at the same time. That is why the picture is in this weird limbo, as if the filmmakers couldn’t really decide what film they wanted to make. It’s a mishmash of multiple ideas which run in different directions all over the screen.
Next on the hit list is the choice of props/costume. This is perhaps the most embarrassing element of all. For some weird unknown reason Meadows or the production designer decided to choose a beaten up old Citreon 2CV with it’s roof removed for the car that the gang of thugs drive around in, oh and did I mention it is painted white and green with a cartoon character resembling a turtle on the bonnet. Why the fuck would these ‘tough guys’ have this car?! It just makes no sense at all. This just completely removes the audience from the experience entirely, as it descends into the ridiculous, clearly unintentionally. All such details should be thought about very carefully, in order to keep the audience with you for an hour and a half. They lost me after thirty minutes, although I did have a good laugh when the lead gang member tried to shoot Considine with a massive sniper rifle, out of the roof of the car. The attempt to return to realism after this failed dramatically. How would this gang member have a sniper rifle? We haven’t seen him in the film have wide ranging connections, he seems like a small time wannabe. Maybe he got it for Christmas from one of the other thugs in a deleted scene…
In all honesty there is not much left to say about this poor film, but perhaps a few further points on the British film industry. I’m not really sure if it is better for us as a nation to produce these nauseating gangster films or the dreary period dramas. Its seems as though these are the only options that British film has, how sad. Everybody knows it too, we’ve been stuck in this rut for far too long now and there has to be a break out to something new. ”Dead Man’s Shoes, ‘Snatch’ (2000), Lock Stock’ (1998) are all over ten years old and yet we still get Danny Dyer cockney nonsense fed to us twice yearly. Whether it’s the lack of funding around, the theft of British talent by the Americans or perhaps even the lack of British talent something has to give, or we’ll face another ten years in this film abyss.