Dead Man’s Shoes was writer/director Shane Meadows next contribution to the film world after his previous film Once Upon a Time in the Midlands exploded onto the British film scene in 2002. Meadows co-wrote DMS with his lead actor Paddy Considine and Paul Fraser. Made on a shoestring budget of only £723,000 this film was completely overlooked, it seems, by everyone. Despite being ranked number 180 in Empire Magazines list of “201 Greatest Movies Of All Time” in 2006 and ranking twenty-seventh in 2008’s “100 Best British Films Ever” the box office figures show a disappointing reception. Actor Paddy Considine won the “Best British Actor” at the 2005 Empire Awards and Toby Kebbell was nominated for the Most Promising Newcomer at the British Independent Film Awards. Home viewing figures (DVD sales and rentals) have elevated the films reputation and it now has a huge cult following.
Paddy Considine plays Richard, a young man who left his home town Matlock, Derbyshire in the Peak District to join the Army. Richard comes back to avenge his mentally challenged younger brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell). A gang that sells drugs has been bullying Anthony and Richard is going to make them pay for their crime. The gang is headed by Big Al (Seamus O’Neill) and his right hand man is Sonny (actor Gary Stretch), who is also the gangs enforcer. Sonny is the brightest member of the group and the hardest. The remaining members are Soz, Tuff, Herbie and Mark. Out of the six strong gang, only Mark (like Richard) has left Matlock.
Richard makes his presence known to Herbie (actor Stuart Wolfenden) first. Herbie is the gopher of the group, he is collecting money in a Social Club (pub) when he notices Richard staring at him in a hostile manner. When he asks Richard, “What are you looking at?” Richard responds by saying, “I’m looking at a C**t.” Herbie, who is the weakest member of the gang, decides it is time to leave. Once he gets outside of the club, Richard comes out and apologises to Herbie.
Herbie goes to Soz and Tuff’s flat where they cut and distribute the drugs and tells them of his encounter. Herbie now thinks that the man he talked to was Richard, Anthony’s brother. All three men become very quiet after hearing that Richard is back in town. Richard in the mean time has been very busy. He breaks into Big Al and Sonny’s house and covers them both in make-up while they are sleeping. He then goes to the entrance of Soz and Tuffy’s apartment building. When Herbie starts to leave the building, Richard (in a gas mask) starts banging on the door and shouting. Terrified Herbie runs back up to the flat and tells the other gang members of the “Elephant Man” at the front of the building.
All three men go out to find Richard. When they return to the flat, empty handed they find that the flat has been emptied as well. All the gangs drugs and money have been taken. Reluctantly the three then go to Big Al to tell them what has happened. When they arrive they find Sonny and Big Al in women’s make-up. Herbie tells Big Al and Sonny about Richard and the gang decide they need to take care of him.
Paddy Considine is truly terrifying as Richard. His character has no problem dishing out the ultimate punishment of death to the gang members that bullied his brother Anthony. Toby Kebbell is so convincing as the mentally challenged Anthony that I thought the actor was really suffering from a mental disorder. He is touching and shy as Anthony and the audience sympathizes with him immediately. We also are behind Richard and his quest of vengeance. In between Richard terrorizing and killing gang members, he and Anthony talk. Mostly Richard is asking Anthony about who specifically bullied him and how, but they also talk about the “old days” before Richard left for the Army. The love demonstrated by the two brothers is impressive and touching.
Viewers of the film will be surprised at the double twist ending. They will also be impressed by the actors and their ability to sell their deaths. The cinematography is impressive, all the more so when you see how they managed to make the death of Big Al look so real. Writer/ Director Shane Meadows has put together a brilliant film that rightly deserves its place in the 100 greatest British Film list.
Once you have seen this film, you will never forget it.