Shane Meadows’ Dead Man Shoes is a horrifying and fantastic revenge thriller with an incredible performance from Paddy Considine.
Revenge is toxic. It’s a vile part of the brain that we rarely ever tap into. The dark thoughts that can appear from wanting to enact vengeance on those who wrong you, as frightening as they can be, ultimately exist as a universal component of the human mind. Everyone is capable of taking revenge and that’s an utterly terrifying thought. Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes is a stunning example of revenge cinema and serves as one of the greatest British films of the 21st century.
Dead Man’s Shoes follows Richard (Paddy Considine), a soldier who returns home to his small town to exact revenge on a group of thugs who tormented his younger brother, Anthony (Toby Kebbell). As Richard goes down a dark path of revenge, we begin to see his role in a small town created from blood, secrets, and the crushing reality that this is just one of many spots in a world fuelled by anger.
At the heart of Dead Man’s Shoes is Paddy Considine‘s performance as Richard. It’s rare to see an actor truly envelop themselves into a character but here, Considine is virtually unrecognisable. At first, Richard is a man of few words. He wanders the British countryside like a ghost with his younger brother by his side. It’s clear that Richard is a troubled soul but what we don’t know is just how close he truly is to the edge of his own destruction.
The character of Richard is a manifestation of revenge cinema taken to the extreme. Here is a man who acts as the living embodiment of death. Their entire life leads to this stretch of several days where he wreaks havoc upon the very souls that threaten the one thing that keeps him in reality. While Dead Man’s Shoes is unafraid to show that Richard’s acts of revenge may have been warranted, the increasing intensity of our central character builds to such a terrifying extent to the point that you’re almost begging for him to show some mercy. This chilling presentation feels all too real and yet, makes all the more sense when you understand who is at the helm of this picture.
Shane Meadows is a director known for his work within British social realism. With films like This Is England, Meadows is a director fascinated with presenting every facet of life. The laughs, the tears and the terror that our time on earth can bring, from Meadows’ perspective, are necessary ingredients for exploring the very world we live in within cinema. This is why Dead Man’s Shoes is such a fascinating departure from his work. However, it’s also an inevitable result of what happens when someone takes their eye for reality and places it within the confines of genre. Here, the small town the film resides in feels truly apocalyptic. There are abandoned buildings aplenty and an overwhelming sense of isolation lingers upon every doorstep. We rarely see any other souls other than our main characters and it makes sense. After all, the Grim Reaper is in town and he is showing no mercy. The film is an operatic affair and yet, it feels increasingly real at every turn.
Dead Man’s Shoes was a film that began as a black comedy before both Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows found themselves taking the production in a much darker direction. While a basic idea of what the film looked like was clear, Dead Man’s Shoes is largely an improvisational affair. During production, certain characters were given more screen time at random, most of the dialogue was written on the set, and major sequences were heavily altered on the day of filming. On paper, this is a recipe for disaster. However, this leads to the film taking on such a bizarre and messy tone which works to its advantage. There’s an undercurrent of comedy that lingers in the first half of the film that while it’s offset by some truly horrifying sequences, gives the film an airy feel before it suddenly grips you tight in ways only such a masterful auteur like Shane Meadows could confidently execute.
Dead Man’s Shoes is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best British films of the 21st century. By deconstructing the conventions of revenge cinema and translating them within the lens of social realism, Shane Meadows created a vision of a place consumed by hate and the utter terror that comes from that environment. Paddy Considine transforms himself into a truly terrifying character and by the time we reach the end credits, we have ourselves a rare revenge film that has us relieved that the carnage is finally all over. We rarely get productions this shocking and utterly transformative but, Dead Man’s Shoes, even 19 years later after its release, is still an unforgettable experience that demands to be seen.
A new restoration of Dead Man’s Shoes is now showing in cinemas in the UK and Ireland. The film is now available to watch on digital and on demand in the US.