I, Daniel Blake FILM REVIEW
I, DANIEL BLAKE
Director: Ken Loach
Screenplay: Paul Laverty
Starring: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy, Briana Shann, Dylan McKiernan
Rated R for language
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
****1/2 out of *****
Daniel Blake befriends a single mother and her children in Ken Loach's I, DANIEL BLAKE.
No matter what part of the world you live in there is one universal truth...bureaucracy can sometimes be a real thoughtless bitch. Whether you're trying to rectify an issue with your credit card company, trying to settle a bill with water & power or just trying to get the most basic of necessities through your health care provider there are times it can be an exercise in frustration and futility. I'm sure we've all been there. Running around in circles and getting the run around even after clearly explaining your situation only to be handed off to another clerk. It can be infuriating just thinking about. Director Ken Loach tackles that very scenario with his latest film I, DANIEL BLAKE.
Daniel Blake, played impeccably by Dave Johns, is a carpenter in England who, after recovering from a recent heart attack, is told by the benefits office that he must find work despite his insistence that he is not medically fit to do so. Eventually Blake meets Katie, played by Hayley Squires, a single mother, new to the city, who is also caught up in the same quagmire that he is. They develop a touching friendship as they try to help each other through the hardships as they try to secure the benefits that they logically should be receiving.
I could go on and on about how well Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty have captured the frustration, anger and despair that many have encountered when dealing with a bureaucracy that is run by the numbers and to the letter. I suppose a prime example would be how, at one point in time, someone couldn't get heath coverage because of preexisting conditions even if it is medically shown that the condition only just appeared. You're ready to give them the money but they won't cover you because you're already sick even if it only just occurred. There are plenty of moments that address the bureaucratic red tape but what this film is really about is the human toll and how people find a way to keep their heads up and keep moving forward.
While the film is about Blake, the emotional core centers on the relationship that develops between Daniel and Katie. It's very affecting and heartfelt. Daniel shows what type of a man he is as he puts the needs of others before his own. Katie shows what kind of a mother she is by the sacrifices she makes, sacrifices that may go unnoticed by her children but are not lost on Daniel. It is clearly a father-daughter relationship that in lesser hands would have been exploited as a romantic angle. Fortunately, Laverty keeps the relationship grounded and believable.
Dave Johns and Hayley Squires deliver excellent performances as Daniel and Katie, respectively. Johns effectively portrays the bewilderment and frustration that could easily lead Blake to having yet another heart attack. His encounters with the office workers at the benefits office are at times amusing and heartbreaking. His attempts to fill out an online form is quite amusing and on the opposite end of the spectrum a moment where he tries to help Katie proves heartrending. As good as Johns is, Squires made the greatest impression. She does a stellar job of portraying this woman's plight. There's one scene in particular, won't say what, that is so sad and so heartbreaking that Squires performance will likely bring a tear to your eye. In those few moments she encapsulated all the raw emotion and despair that she's feeling and as viewers all we can do is despair with her.
Ken Loach has made a film that effectively conveys the frustrations average citizens feel when being forced to play by the impersonal rules of entities such as health care or welfare. The film presents relatable and endearing characters who are easy to get behind. It's not difficult to become empathetic when we see first hand the crises that these characters are left to face. Well directed, written and, in particular, performed, I, DANIEL BLAKE is one of the year's best films.
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal