Almost everybody I know who has seen Shane Meadows’s psychological revenge thriller loves it. I’ve lost count of the bemusing number of people who has mentioned this among their favourite movies. One time a friend texted me, giving a long eulogy about how he’s just watched it; telling me how great it was and how it was one of the best films he has ever seen. I replied saying I was not a fan, describing it as predictable and overrated. The response I got back simply read: “I just don’t understand you at all.”
Dead Man’s Shoes opens with a pair of mysterious men walking across the moorlands to their hometown of Matlock in Derbyshire. The men are brothers; one an ex-paratrooper named Richard (Paddy Consadine), the other his beloved younger brother, Anthony (Toby Kebbell). When they reach civilisation, they go inside a café, where Richard gets into an awkward altercation with a dim-witted drug dealer called Herbie (Stuart Wolfenden). Slightly spooked by this strange encounter, the dealer later relays the confrontation back to his druggie friends, to which they respond with much amusement. The laughter soon stops, however, when they find out who the man may be.
Dead Man’s Shoes can be described as a lot of things, but subtle certainly isn’t one of them. Through a series of heavy-handed, grainy black-and-white flashbacks, we learn that the mentally-impaired Anthony has been tormented by a group of drug dealers, which has subsequently led to tragic consequences. These scenes are accompanied by a constant, terribly sombre score that wants to evoke poignancy, but to me it just comes across as plainly obvious. Paddy Consadine, who I’m usually a fan of, is undeniably committed in the lead role, but at times can appear overblown to the point of ridiculousness. It’s an angry performance that lacks nuance, and can be summed up with various of snarls and growls.
Taken as just a silly tale of vengeance and murder, I can understand the film’s appeal, but as a thought-provoking parable, I just don’t buy it. The sudden spark of emotion at the grand finale is a clear indication that Meadows did not intend to make a standard revenge flick, but wanted to create something more profound and provocative. Sadly, however, I see little here that excels it from that genre.