I found out about UK director Shane Meadows about 10 years ago, when his drama about nationalist hooligans, This Is England (2006), got international attention for its riveting and humanizing depiction of the less savory elements of the British working class. His following movie, Somers Town (2008), captured the same lower class milieu but with a gentler touch. Dead Man's Shoes, his feature preceding This is England, is a clear step in Meadows' evolution, once again showing his keen sense of time and place within the same segment of British society, but with a few heavy stylistic touches that make it less effective than his later films.
Paddy Considine stars in Dead Man's Shoes as Richard, a soldier returning home to the Midlands to exact payback on a local drug gang guilty of abusing his special needs brother (Toby Kebbell). As Richard stalks, teases and confronts the bullying chavs, Meadows has some fun deflating the criminal ego, depicting them as overgrown children and flat-track bullies who are more likely to bawl than brawl when the circumstances tilt away from their favor.
Co-written by Considine, Dead Man's Shoes is narratively unexceptional revenge fare, except that Meadows makes the compelling choice to present it in the style of a kitchen sink drama, playing down the more sensational aspects, and focusing instead on the gloomy environment and Considine's quiet, reluctant rage. Meadows and Considine do a nice job of gradually peeling back new layers of the past, and scheduling Richard's retribution in stages of humiliation and finality. It's exploitation content that plays terrifically as a grim slice-of-life with lo-fi folkish music from artists like Bonnie Prince Billy and M. Ward nicely setting a sombre, brooding tone.
However, Meadows lack of tonal consistency between the present and past sequences is problematic for Dead Man's Shoes, as the low-key verisimilitude that makes the former so effective is replaced during the flashbacks by heavy-handed scoring and an artificially worn, high-grain black-and-white visual style that over-magnifies the emotional content, making substantial sections of the movie feel almost laughably precious. Towards the end, unfortunately, this same unmeasured aesthetic takes over the present narrative, as well, shoving the camera right in Considine's face during the emotional climax and doing his performance or the ultimate impact of the film no favors.
DEAD MAN'S SHOES was brought to my Potluck Film Fest by Flickcharter Nick Dallas. He ranks it on his chart at #540 / 2174 (75%), making it his #25 out of 52 Revenge Films. DEAD MAN'S SHOES ranked on my chart at #1500/3908 (62%), where it's my 38th favorite Revenge Film out of 65.