Politics and cinema has never mattered more to the British social-realist director Ken Loach. It was the election of a conservative government that brought him out of a brief retirement in 2014, when he shot Jimmy’s Hall, which competed for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. He didn’t win it that year, but he would win it (his second Palme) for I, Daniel Blake, in 2016. His humanist concerns are on full display in this heart-breaking movie, which also won the Gigi Guermont GEMS Audience Award during last year’s Miami Film Festival’s GEMS event. Based on a true story, what makes this movie so stirring lies in the careful manner Loach presents a predicament via pent up performances by the film’s two leads, who let loose after a frustrating confrontation with England’s seemingly Kafkaesque social welfare system.
It’s a powerful film that could have easily focused on the film’s title character alone (a charming Dave Johns, known first and foremost as comedian in his native England). His experience as a man alone against a bureaucratic system seemingly designed to keep those in need from social benefits is at the heart of the story. However, Loach and writer Paul Laverty have woven in a marvelous ensemble including Dan’s resourceful neighbor who devises a way to sell sneakers for half price. There are also a range of social workers, including one who makes an effort to undermine the system in order to help Dan and another who shows a disturbing dedication to procedure above humanity. Then there’s Katie (a moving Hayley Squires), a single mom with two kids, who would rather go hungry to make sure not only her kids get food but also Daniel after he volunteers his handyman skills to fix up her new rental.
If there is fault in this film, it arrives when the story amps up sentiment with some plot twists toward the end of the film that feel excessive considering the simple human moments used to flesh out these characters. You won’t notice a manipulative score or flashy editing in I, Daniel Blake, but you will notice people in all their complexities, be they charming or chilly. Yet there is a sense that there are no human antagonists. Instead, the adversary is the system and how it continually lets down people striving to be honest while just trying to survive. Loach, who has trafficked in this concern through much of his career, knows how to make the point with incredibly graceful filmmaking, and he is in excellent form with his latest film.
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Programming Note: On Sunday evening, June 11, join Independent Ethos’ co-founder/creative director and Vice Chair of the Florida Film Critics Circle Hans Morgenstern for a special screening of I, Daniel Blake. We will meet at the Bill Cosford Cinema on the Coral Gables campus of the University of Miami for an exclusive tour of the venue with theater manager and UM professor Trae Delellis. We will meet in front of the cinema’s box office at 4:45 p.m. for check-in. Yes, the ticket to the movie says it starts at 5:30 but plan to get there at 4:45. We will talk to Trae about his experience at UM’s film program and running a theater on the campus and learn who was Bill Cosford. We will also get a tour of the theater and talk about projection before Hans introduces the film to the group. Hans will also be available to discuss the movie afterward. He will announce a bar off campus where we can meet to discuss this movie. This is part of our program “Independent Ethos Insider’s Tour of the Movies” co-sponsored by The Knight Foundation, Continental Film & Digital Labs and Magna-Tech. Purchase tickets via this link:
You also get a free drink and popcorn!
I, Daniel Blake runs 100 minutes and is not rated. It opens Friday, June 9th in our South Florida area at the following theaters: