review for Dead Man's Shoes on AllMovie

Dead Man's Shoes (2004)
by Josh Ralske review

Director Shane Meadows, whose working-class dramas have always had an air of good humor, takes a dark turn with the absorbing revenge drama Dead Man's Shoes. Anchored by the grimly hypnotic lead performance of Paddy Considine (who co-wrote the script with his longtime friend Meadows), the film bears a passing resemblance to Mike Hodges' recent I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, with a tough, stoic older brother (Considine as Richard) returning from the wilderness to avenge a grievous wrong done to his good-natured younger brother (Toby Kebbell in a well-modulated, affecting performance as the mentally impaired Anthony). But Meadows' film is richer and more resonant than Hodges' in what it says about the nature of violence and vengeance. For one thing, Richard's victims are examined hanging out at length, and, aside from the menacing Sonny (Gary Stretch), they have a goofy stoner bonhomie that distinguishes them as people, not villains. Stupid, obnoxious people, perhaps, but wholly human. There's an improvisatory feel to these scenes, and they seem refreshingly drawn from life experience. Unlike Malcolm McDowell's sneering, tuxedoed creep in I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, these aren't hateful characters, and you can understand how Anthony would be drawn to their company. Meadows gets the visuals just right, using stark, simple images to tell what is essentially a stark, simple truth. But it's hard to imagine the film without Considine's amazing work. Considine is generally a likeable presence, and his Richard is identifiably soulful and remorseful as he goes inexorably about his grim task, but we never doubt his resolve. There are a few moments when the film feels a bit programmatic. Richard's soldierly expertise occasionally strains credulity, and the film lurches uneasily into the Halloween realm. But Considine's gripping performance rings true throughout.