Dead Man's Shoes (2004)

Director: Shane Meadows

Running Time: 86 Minutes

Certificate: 18

Starring: Paddy Considine, Toby Kebbell, Gary Stretch, Stuart Wolfenden, Neil Bell, Paul Sadot, Seamus O'Neil, George Newton, Paul Hurstfield, Emily Aston, Jo Hartley

Unavailable in the UK for years, Shane Meadows' heartbreaking masterwork made a glorious return to cinemas for a welcome reissue. Opening the film are sights of its beating heart, as grainy footage showing two brothers growing up from adolescence is intercut with scenes of them as adults, walking across the countryside. This contrast between a happy childhood and adults walking with purpose shows that a serious change has occurred.

"God will forgive them. He'll forgive them and let them into heaven. I can't live with that." This quote gets to the heart of Richard (Paddy Considine), a soldier returning to his rural village to find little has changed, although intends to correct one glaring problem. While he was away, Richard's little brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) was taken in and cruelly abused by vicious drug dealer Sonny (Gary Stretch), and his rowdy gang.

While this gang consider themselves big fishes within their small pond, Richard takes a wrecking ball to their insular lifestyle as he begins terrorising them. The repellent group become focused on self-preservation as their past sins close in around them, with worsening events leaving them haunted. Intercut within are flashbacks depicting the physical and emotional torment that Anthony received, with these distressing scenes delivering the gritty gut-punches that Meadows phenomenally delivers.

Central to it all is Considine's force of nature performance, pouring an intense focus into Richard which ensures each side of the character is effectively conveyed to audiences. He reminisces about the past with saddening reflection, feeling hopeless for how he could not help his brother during such a tough time. Even when he speaks softly and puts on a friendly face, something chilling is felt lurking underneath which captures how he makes no idle threats. In the tradition of a slasher villain, he is a lingering presence that stalks his prey, fuelled by vengeance while waiting to strike with such ferocity. While wearing a gas mask and a boiler suit, he resembles Jason Voorhees if he came from the Peak District.

Through this brutal experience that is powerfully played by all involved, Meadows delivers an unflinching examination of how destructive revenge can be and how fighting monsters can transform someone into a monster themselves. This incredibly distressing work deserves the recognition it is finally receiving, as it is one of the best British films ever made.

Dead Man's Shoes recently received a cinema rerelease.