Richard (Paddy Considine) returns to his quaint, English hometown after spending some time in the armed forces to take revenge on the local gang, lead by the fearsome Sonny (Gary Stretch), that tormented his brother (Toby Kebbell) in Shane Meadows’ bloody, British revenge fable.
And Dead Man’s Shoes is all about the ensuing mood. The characters, though well acted and distinguishable, aren’t terribly memorable and the plot is insufficient even for the film’s running time of less than ninety minutes. Judging by the surface, the film really shouldn’t be much better than the recent remake of Walking Tall starring The Rock. But it is.
Many critics single out Considine’s performance as the reason for this, but I disagree. For one, ex-boxer Stretch is more effective as a sleazy, tough villain than Considine as the reserved, quietly murderous Richard. And there isn’t enough credit given to Meadows, who sustains an almost unbearable tension through the film’s final hour.
However, the central reason that Dead Man’s Shoes not only works, but works well and packs the emotional wallop that it does is due to the script, co-written by Meadows and Considine, which wraps a predictable tale of revenge with layers of Christian symbolism and themes.
At one point in between, Richard drugs several of the gang members he set out to punish, and is toying with them when one looks him in the eyes and asks, “Jesus?” Richard shakes his head, but the question is meant to force the viewer to engage with the film’s religious aspect.
Dead Man’s Shoes is no less about Christ than Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. It opens with Richard’s sombre statement of intent, “God will forgive them for what they have done, and he will allow them into heaven. I can't live with that,” and ends with a God-like point of view shot from the clouds accompanied by the sounds of a Church choir.