I, Daniel Blake Review
I, Daniel Blake (2016) Film Review from the 54th Annual New York Film Festival, a movie by Ken Roach, and starring Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Dylan McKiernan, Briana Shann, Mick Laffey, Harriet Ghosr, Helen Dixon, and Bryn Jones.
I, Daniel Blake follows the story of our titular hero (Dave Johns), a 59-year-old carpenter from Newcastle who suffers from a heart attack and is forced to stay home. Daniel Blake soon finds himself fighting the system when the government fails to give him his Employment and Support Allowance or ESA Benefits. Blake has a decision to make, but each choice would risk him everything.
The opening of the film begins with Blake making a phone call with the state department, which ends up being a long process of dead ends and silly situations. These situations are what make the film extremely hilarious, something that many plaintiffs have when they are stuck in difficult conversations. Loach leaves nothing left unsaid when developing this character as we see Daniel’s anger with the system, in spite of his efforts to keep things civil and sensible.
Everyone from his former colleagues to his young entrepreneur neighbor is nice towards Blake. The same is proven true when Blake helps Katie (Hayley Squires) at a local job center. A single mother coming from London, Katie is living in Newcastle with her two kids after her place is deemed unfit to live in back home. Daniel finds their situation much harsher than his own, and finds comfort in helping them out. Blake becomes a sort of grandfather figure to Katie’s kids and accompanies her in finding food and looking for work.
As these two forms a friendship, we see these two characters dealing with the shame and irritation faced by people in the lower-class society. One emotional scene displays a hungry Katie as she is gulping down a can of baked beans at a local food bank and is embarrassed by her actions. It’s something that the film displays really well when it comes to showing those in need of food and shelter.
As the film advances, the situation surrounding Daniel and Katie begin to gets worse. However, Daniel continues to remain headstrong and tries to confer that onto Katie who is ready to give up. Katie has no choice but to resort to stealing and working at an unconventional job, showing us that while the government fail to help these people, there are those who take advantage of their situations.
Dave Johns simply owns the role of Daniel Blake. Coming from the comedy world, Johns has perfect comic timing when he plays the role of Blake. It also felt like he was improvising in most of his scenes. Paul Laverty, who often collaborates with Loach on these projects, wrote the screenplay. The film has some realism to it when it focuses on the poor population that most films from the UK don’t seem to go into. Laverty and Loach have done well on their part to give us a better picture on the living conditions for the lower-class citizens in Britain.
Most of Ken Loach’s films have focused on an everyman facing difficult obstacles, and Dave Johns does a fine job portraying a person like that. Johns gives a heartwarming performance with wit and humor, while Hayley Squires perfectly displays a woman who becomes vulnerable when things become worse. Despite so much anger, Loach also shows his optimism of a diverse Britain where the promise of unity and rage only scratches the surface of what’s going on in their economy. It’s a welcome return to form for Loach who delivers a film with heart and wit while relating to the harsh realities of lower society in the UK.
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