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I, Daniel Blake
IFC Films // R // December 23, 2016
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
A critical success at a film festival and that in a theatrical setting are quite different. While the Cannes Film Festival has hosted many impressive motion pictures in its award winners, they aren't all what they are initially hyped up to be. The Palme d'Or is the festival's highest honor, although the winner can sometimes be a bit of an odd choice. However, this isn't the case in director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty's I, Daniel Blake. They have managed to craft a tremendously genuine drama that is guaranteed to make you feel emotions that are rarely felt this strongly at the cinema.
Daniel (Dave Johns) is a middle-aged carpenter, who has lived alone since the death of his wife. After suffering from heart problems, he's told that he can no longer work under his condition. He's forced to turn to state welfare, which places him in a never-ending loop of challenges and frustration. Life begins to look up when he meets a single mother named Katie (Hayley Squires), who is going through a similar situation.
Loach opens the film with a black screen, as the viewer hears Daniel's conversation with a medical specialist. He's asked an assortment of questions that have nothing to do with his impairment, as he begins to become upset during this frustrating appointment. I, Daniel Blake clearly seeks to send a message regarding such state services, as the title character is led through countless hurdles to receive money that he needs to survive after he's left unable to work. This story holds social relevance in its plot points, as well as its characters. Each individual is rich with development that relates to human nature. This ultimately allows the audience to explore a film that feels relatable, even for those of us who have been fortunate enough to never have to suffer from such health problems. Laverty's screenplay puts character first, allowing everything else to simply fall into place.
While Daniel is the leading role, Katie proves to hold just as much significance in the feature. She's going through a similar scenario, as she struggles to make a better life for her two children. After having to move from London, she has some difficulty adjusting to a flat that is slowly falling apart. Katie is just as complex of a character as Daniel, especially as we learn more about their pasts. Perhaps the most intriguing character element is that they both need each other equally. Both of their lives are in shambles before they meet each other, as this friendship develops into something reminiscent of a father and daughter relationship. It's possible that I, Daniel Blake is Loach and Laverty's message to audiences about humanity, and that our treatment of those around us is important. The film is extremely successful in its ability to make the audience feel deeply for Daniel and Katie. It's less about watching a plot unfold on screen, and more like we're simply watching two lost souls trying to find a home.
We all have moments of weakness, although that's what makes us human. I, Daniel Blake embraces this mentality with open arms, as the two lead characters face some victories and a whole lot of defeats. Those expecting a cinematically explosive drama aren't going to get it, which is where the film gets much of its power. This approach ultimately provides us with a hard-hitting reality that is entirely captivating in the honest simplicity of its extreme focus on character. This allows the film to have heartbreakingly powerful scenes, such as one in a food bank. If this particular scene doesn't deeply affect your state of composure, then nothing will. While the actual events that occur in the third act are a bit heavy on the foreshadowing, this remains to be one of the most personal films of 2016.
Despite a stellar screenplay, the film relies heavily on the performances of the two lead characters. Dave Johns is engaging, albeit misses a few emotional beats that could have been capitalized on. This marks his feature acting debut, and overall, he doesn't disappoint. He greatly contributes to the reason why his character becomes so likable and relatable. However, Hayley Squires steals the spotlight as Katie. This is an incredibly nuanced performance that digs deep into our soul. Squires has certainly made herself an actress to watch, as this film displays her superb range that ultimately allows the feature to thrive in the way that the final product does.
Even with winning the Palme d'Or from the Cannes Film Festival, director Ken Loach's new film hasn't generated much buzz outside of the festival circuit. This is an outstanding piece of dramatic filmmaking that deserves an abundance of attention by audiences and my fellow critics. There are few character studies that have touched me in the way that this drama has. Its political message isn't isolated, as it lends itself to establishing an impactful study of human nature. Hayley Squires delivers a performance that is worthy of the film's Palme d'Or win, and deserves awards attention. There are a lot of heavily dramatic films out there during this time of year, but this one should be prioritized on that list of movies to see, regardless of its lack of attention from the Academy. I, Daniel Blake pierces into the soul with its immensely moving character study. Highly recommended!