Shane Meadows' last film may have been called Once Upon A Time In The Midlands, but if anything his new film is more of a Western: a gritty British spin on Bad Day At Black Rock, High Plains Drifter or any other movie in which a mysterious stranger returns to exact retribution on a small town with blood on its hands.
To be fair, though, the cold-blooded nature of Paddy Considine's tortured but oddly benign avenging angel has more in common with Death Wish or Straw Dogs than it does with Spencer Tracy's one-armed visitor or Clint's Pale Riders. Yet there's never a feeling of sensationalism here. Meadows may be depicting vigilante violence, but he definitely isn't condoning it.
This is partly due to the moral and narrative simplicity of Meadows and Considine's deceptive, moving and honest screenplay - inspired, incidentally, by a personal tragedy. But it's also a result of the matter-of-fact manner with which Meadows presents Considine's Richard, whose arrival instils fear into manipulative local drug dealer Sonny (a menacing Gary Stretch) and his gang of petty criminals. Richard isn't after simple retribution: he wants them to suffer as his brother suffered. There's a ruthless logic to our anti-hero's vengeance that makes it all the more chilling.
As the plot unfolds and as the full humiliation inflicted upon Richard's brother is revealed in a series of increasingly disturbing flashbacks, the film veers from broad, lewd humour to bloody, brutal, raw reality (Meadows even finds time to take a detour into social realism). That such a disparate mix of tones and styles work is a credit to the director's assured approach. But it's also down to Considine, who chalks up yet another extraordinary performance to show once again why he's one of Britain's most versatile acting talents - and a fine writer to boot.
Thought-provoking, poignant and powerful, Shoes comes highly recommended. This could finally break Meadows into the multiplexes.
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