A film about brothers, Shane Meadows's Dead Man's Shoes (2004) is immediately apparent. Watching the younger lad follow the older one, donning an army-green jacket with a duffel bag of the same color slung over his shoulder, in the opening credit sequence, even without the flashback footage of the Super-8-ish home movies of two young boys in familial situations, is enough to tell the viewer that these two are brothers. The pair are walking to an abandoned farmhouse, slightly outside the village where the two grew up. The older one with the army fatigues is Richard, played by Paddy Considine, in his finest role to date, and the younger one is Anthony, his mentally disabled brother, played by Toby Kebbell in a heartbreaking and endearing performance. Anthony is Richard's reason for coming home; not a happy reunion, as Richard's actions initially appear as a military operation. The next thing to become apparent: this is a story of revenge.
After the two make camp at the abandoned farmhouse, Richard, with Anthony following behind, immediately come into their home village. Through an alleyway, Richard comes upon a house and searches the perimeter for any signs of life. A black-and-white cut scene occurs in which Anthony is seen holding grocery bags and being summoned inside the house by an older chap. Once Anthony is inside, there's a bunch of people, looking as if they're just having a good time drinking and smoking a little weed. Cut back to color and Richard, with a glass of water in front of him, and Anthony are in a pool hall. Local drug dealer, Herbie, walks in, and if looks could kill, then Herbie would have fallen over at the threshold, because Richard knows him. Herbie peddles some drugs to a couple locals and disturbed by the stare that he is receiving from Richard, he confronts him. What the fuck is Richard looking at? "At you, ya cunt!" Herbie's scared: after another confrontation outside his mate's club, where Richard seems to be apologizing in a rather intimidating fashion, Herbie runs to see a couple chums. They're reading a little porno and drinking some beers. Herbie sits with the two and brings a serious buzzkill: Anthony's brother's in town. The look on the duo's face is priceless, and Dead Man's Shoes cuts again to the black-and-white flashbacks: the once fun-looking party has just gotten a little nastier and all of its participants are plainly identified. Richard knows who all of them are, and he has a bout of fun with them. After Herbie gets a little muddled-headed on the weed and booze with his mates, he meets an eerie looking figure at the apartment complex door, beckoning him. It's a haunting and powerful image:The following morning, the whole crew, who were at the original "party" with Anthony know who Richard is and are wondering what he's up to. Some pranks were pulled the night before, like Herbie's mysterious encounter, a ramshackled flat, some spray-paint on a few fellows, but mostly harmless. The crew's leader, Sonny, played by boxer Gary Stretch, decides to get the lot together and go and find Richard. On the street, Richard's spotted and Sonny goes to intimidate Richard. Fat Chance. Stretch is an imposing figure, but Considine's Richard openly confesses that he is the prankster. Sonny doesn't move, and Richard threatens him and looks as if he's about to jump out of his skin to attack him. Richard tells Sonny where he can find him, at the farmhouse, and Sonny leaves. That evening, one of Sonny's crew gets iced in the bathroom (shown in a nasty aftermath scene), and they decide to kill Richard.Ex-elite soldier, Richard, methodically goes about his plan of bloody and gruesome revenge. But not before Meadows increasingly shows the viewer through the black-and-white flashback footage the escalating series of events that fuelled Richard. Meadows has an observant eye for detail and goes to great lengths to replicate the actual culture he presents with his films, as he did previously in TwentyFourSeven (1997), A Room For Romeo Brass (1999), and later in This Is England (2006), for example. Dead Man's Shoes shares Meadow's observant eye, and his use of genuine locations, especially the brilliant scenes within hilltop castle, give a real intimacy to the film. The characters, beyond their dialogue with their regional accents, feel part of their surroundings. It's very easy to feel "within" this story, as if you know these people, no matter where in the world you are viewing Dead Man's Shoes. I also had little trouble getting hooked by the story, as the pacing and the film's writing is fantastic (penned by Meadows and Considine). Meadows gets playfully dark with his humor, especially when the crew goes to confront Richard at the farmhouse. He, then, gets downright nasty and gruesome when Richard kills his victims.Beyond, however, the exciting revenge drama, Meadows (and Considine's performance) paints amazing character portrait with Richard. Revenge is a popular premise in cinema, as some genres lived on the theme, such as samurai cinema, where revenge often brought honor to the dead, or Westerns, where gunslingers once thought dead come back to literally haunt the living. Most often the film ends with a climatic showdown and the final kill in the plan of revenge ends the film. Meadows goes much further. The film's final twenty or so minutes really shape the whole film, when Richard learns the location of the last member of Anthony's "party." The openly psychotic rage that Considine's Richard brings is opened up and drawn like blood. The final confrontation involves Richard and his inner demons. It's a captivating and powerful revelation. There are few words to describe how good Considine is. Brilliant is just the tip of the iceberg.Dead Man's Shoes belongs in that favorite class of films here, a film firmly rooted in genre that transcends it with its creative talent. This is a film which only gets better with each subsequent viewing. See it.