The 2004 psychological thriller Dead Man’s Shoes is certainly one of director Shane Meadows’ best efforts. It stars Paddy Considine, who also co-wrote the film, and Toby Kebbell, in his film debut, as two siblings, Richard, an ex-British soldier, and Anthony, Richard’s mentally-impaired younger brother.
We discover that Anthony has been physically and emotionally abused by a gang of drug dealers in the brothers’ hometown of Matlock, Derbyshire, while Richard was serving in the army. When Richard returns from war, he vows to take revenge on those who cruelly took advantage of his younger brother.
There’s a real intensity to Meadows’ film, an undoubted revenge flick driven by injustice. Today, we’re going to take a look at one of the film’s vital scenes, when the drug dealers’ gang leader Sonny (played by Gary Stretch) confronts Richard after he’s begun fucking with the heads of his subordinates.
The scene begins with Anthony standing beside Richard by a fence as Richard hops up and down on the spot, evidently pissed. The men who abused Richard drive by in a Citreon 2CV, and as they reverse, Richard tells Anthony to “go down there” to make himself safe from what’s about to come.
The leader of the gang, Sonny, says he’ll deal with Richard, and he gets out of the car with a cigarette behind his ear, draped in a leather jacket. He’s smug and cocky and walks up to Richard with his hands in his pockets, a clear sign of his casual approach to his former actions and a showing of disrespect for Anthony’s brother.
It’s a typically rainy Midlands afternoon, a fitting weather for the mood of the scene. Sonny coolly asks Richard how he’s doing and puts his hand out, then takes it back in quickly when Richard keeps his arms behind his back. There’s a beautiful shot of Richard and Sonny on either side of the camera with Anthony hanging back nervously in the background in the centre – significant considering what we later learn about Anthony’s fate at the hands of Sonny’s gang.
Richard is as cool as ice, even though he’s burning with fire inside. When Sonny tells him of his “friends’ ridiculous idea” that Richard had stolen their drugs, he cuts him off with, “Yeah, it was me,” making it fully clear that he has no fear of them. Sonny tries and fails to assert his dominance over Richard by getting in his face.
“That’s my concern,” is Richard’s response when Sonny asks him what he’s doing. Sonny knows that Richard isn’t afraid of him, which is the sole reason that Sonny holds influence over others. Without that fear, he’s reduced to nothing. “You should be nervous,” Richard says as the rain pours down and the birds sing.
Richard knows the pain that he will bring on Sonny, but he offers him a suggestion, “to in that fucking car and get out of here mate”. It’s not a “threat”; it’s “beyond fucking words” the pain that Richard will soon inflict. The tables turn easily, with Richard displaying a frightening sense of calm as he tells Sonny of how he watched him sleep and how close he was to slicing it.
The best moment of the scene arrives with some stultifying dialogue. “You’re fucking there, mate,” Richard says, pointing in his open palm and then crushing it shut. “So get in that car and fuck off,” he whispers. There’s a genuine look of fear in Sonny’s eyes; his cocksure persona wilted, showing himself to be the pathetic bully that he truly is. He quickly gets back in the car and “fucks off”.
All the while, Anthony has been standing patiently in the background. The beauty of the scene, bar Considine’s intensity and delivery, is the fact that we learn that Anthony had inadvertently killed himself when the gang forced him to take LSD and pretended to hang him.
So we learn that Richard has actually been alone the entire time, and Anthony has merely served as the spectre of his memories of him. Dead Man’s Shoes is littered with moments like this scene, intensely dark and emotionally harrowing, but the moment Sonny tries to confront Richard is undoubtedly one of the best.