Director: Shane Meadows
In a Yorkshire town, three men stand in a drab little kitchen boiling a kettle to make tea. It could be a soap or ‘Last of The Summer Wine’. What distinguishes this scene from any TV drama is that, unbeknownst to the men, the kettle is laced with cocaine and they are about to get insanely high off their brew. ‘Emmerdale’ this is not.
Welcome to the Yorkshire of Shane Meadows, filled with druggies, hopheads and psychotic avengers. Dead Man’s Shoes focuses on ex-territorial Richard (Paddy Considine, typically engaging) and his quest to exact revenge on the thugs who physically assaulted and humiliated his mentally-challenged younger brother (Rock’nRolla’s Toby Kebbell, sympathetic). Yup, it’s Taxi Driver goes to the Country, but that is no bad thing. When one thinks of Yorkshire, one imagines rolling fields, soundtracked by Elgar and daytime soap themes. Meadows veers well clear of these images, focusing on the depressed little towns that allow such characters as drug dealer Sonny (Gary Stretch) and his cronies to flourish. Instead of farmers and old ladies with their hair in curlers, there’s gangsters and crack whores. John Keats would have had a coronary.
Dead Man’s Shoes is an intense piece of work. It has similar plot points to Taxi Driver, as already mentioned, but there is more of Scorsese’s DNA in Meadows’ film than in mere plot similarities. Like so many Scorsese characters, the populace of Dead Man’s Shoes are filled with delusions of their own self-worth, fuelled either by anger or cocaine. Themes of identity, redemption and the descent of man (all Scorsese staples) are skillfully dealt with, mixing grim reality with sudden bursts of violence, a welcome line in (pitch black) humour and a dread-filled atmosphere. At 84 minutes, Dead Man’s Shoes feels a touch slight, and a final reveal is signposted well in advance, but there is much to admire in a film that brings such grittiness to somewhere so picturesque.