Ken Loach / Dave Johns , Hayley Squires / Drama / 2016 / 15 / 100mins
Ken Loach is back on form with a classic British David vs Goliath feature that attacks the Tory government welfare system.
Our man Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a 59 year old joiner from Newcastle, has recently suffered a heart attack. Despite his doctor finding him unfit to work, Daniel is denied benefits. After befriending single mother Katie (Hayley Squires), the two battle against a system that seems intent on keeping them quiet.
It’s doom and gloom aplenty in I, Daniel Blake, where humour provides little relief for the unflinching portrayal of our widowed Geordie hero. My emotional state when watching I, Daniel Blake was a running list of Trump tweets: Sad! Funny! Shocking! Bad Hombres! An extreme situation, yes, but I, Daniel Blake handles the bureaucracy of the state towards the poor well.
Opening with a black screen, the emotionless, robotic voice of a support worker offers little help to Daniel. It sets the tone – one man against an ominous entity. But it’s not all fantastical; to say the film is naturalistic is a gross understatement. With hindsight, it’s both the film’s greatest flaw and greatest strength. The camerawork is never intimate, instead gliding from scene to scene like a documentary. This draws focus to the system it rightly criticises but uses the characters as vessels. It is, as they say, bland; lifeless; an injustice to the sublime script. We relate to the situation by replacing the characters with ourselves to get any cathartic appeal. On the other hand, this shows how detached modern society is – the blandness is an indictment of the benefit system.
Johns’ sarcastic wit is the satirical compass. Without him there’d be a sad black hole. His sarcasm is at times a biblical light in the poverty abyss, and it is that which draws others to him: these human characteristics which make him so different to those he heeds. In particular was Johns and Squires’ remarkable relationship. The film is carried on their shoulders, and you know they’re going through the pain, the suffering – each emotion is raw and subtle, like each scene is a livestream of grief. The dialogue was seemingly spontaneous, a far cry from the drab formulas of mainstream media.
This is depressing stuff. A reflection of our times is always hard to take but never has a fall from common, everyday grace seemed so tragic. There’s a political agenda that aims to turn heads, and audiences will empathise emphatically. The ending monologue alone is film history, an unexpectedly Shakespearean finale that reclaims an ounce of justice.
Similar in vein to Manchester by the Sea, I, Daniel Blake plies it’s own trade in grief by being more objective. I, Daniel Blake is without a doubt one of the best films of 2016 and a deserved winner of the Palme D’Or. An essential adult drama.
Film as a Film – 5 / Target Audience – 5 / General Audience – 3
I, Daniel Blake is available on DVD and On Demand
For more information about the rating system, click here.
By Source, fair use via Wikipedia.
The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.