Put simply Dead Man’s Shoes is a revenge movie in the tradition of Straw Dogs, Mad Max, Death Wish and Once Upon A Time In The West but set in the rather less glamorous location of Matlock, Derbyshire. One man avenges the poor treatment his handicapped brother suffered at the hands of a drugs gang by exacting a concerted, bloody revenge. In these times of heightened feelings towards gun crime in America, following the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, films like this are all the more likely to be studied and castigated for their portrayal of a romanticised violence and yet those who condemn it are missing the point.
The director Shane Meadows is a particular favourite of mine. His localised Midlands stories have a charm to them that is very unique, very personal, very British. He tends to cast original actors for their raw energy and character rather than actual ability. Sometimes it works (Paddy Considine, Vicky McClure, Joe Gilgun) sometimes it doesn’t (most of the others) but in this particular case the lead character of Richard (Considine) is perfectly cast as a disturbed ex-soldier who shows no fear or remorse. He becomes consumed by this need for revenge and nothing or no one will stop him as he is accompanied by his brother on this journey.
Considine himself also wrote the script with Meadows and long-time Meadows co-contributor, Paul Fraser and this is shown in the performance as Considine’s own personal influence seems to shine through. The thoughtful musings and conversations between Richard and his brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) were a chance to show the character as loving and relatable when the fact that he was murdering people should have disconnected the audience with Richard. The mob mentality often displayed by young groups of males is to the fore as these men tormented a young disabled boy and yet when confronted by their own mortality seem to be scared, remorseful and almost affable. It is up to the viewer how they wish to react.
This is a film about vengeance but it is also a love story because of two strands: Richard and Anthony as well as Mark and his family towards the end. These bookend the film as the viewer has travelled from violence at the beginning through copious bloodshed to the end. Dead Man’s Shoes does not preach or glamorise violence. It just shows all actions have consequences and that revenge is not always what you wished.