I, Daniel Blake Review: Fighting the System into our Hearts
The saddest part of I, Daniel Blake isn’t the hard reality our protagonist faces regarding the brutal welfare system in North East England. Nor is it the heart wrenching and brilliant performances from both Dave Johns and Hayley Squires. It’s the harsh reality that this little independent film that has so many important messages won’t be seen by the audience it deserves.
The latest from director Ken Loach follows a 59-year-old carpenter, who has recently suffered a heart attack. His doctors give him strict orders not to return to work. However, the state welfare system is declining him benefits. Daniel isn’t the most tech-savvy of guys out there, so the all-digital process he has to go through is frustrating, to say the least.
When Daniel meets a mother of two, Katie, who is in a similar situation of her own, he befriends the family and develops a strong bond with them. He fixes up their beat up home, makes household items for them and is a genuine support system in their time of need.
I, Daniel Blake is an honest, terrifying and sometimes humorous look into an awful situation that the human population faces every day. The struggle Daniel goes through the film, is frustrating for us as an audience to watch. Not just because the system is so unorganized and faulty, but because we instantly fall in love with Daniel Blake from the moment we meet him.
Dave Johns gives an emotional and lovely performance that is beautiful to witness. You just want to give Daniel Blake a hug; he’s so warm and friendly, but also is a human being with flaws. The genuineness in Johns’s performance is so elegantly done, that you forget you are watching an actor half the time. He’s witty, funny and wants to help anyone he can, even if it’s just a shoulder to cry on. His emotional arc is the driving force for the entire movie, and no matter what you think of I, Daniel Blake as a story, you can’t help but fall in love with the character.
Hayley Squires plays the single mother of two brilliantly. This character could’ve easily been portrayed in a more “trashy” way, and when she first enters the film, I mistakenly thought she would fall into that cliche. I’m happy to say I was dead wrong. Squires’s multi-layered performance is captivating, raw and honest. The lengths Katie goes to provide for her kids are all justified. She isn’t a deadbeat mom with a drug problem or a woman who brings men home late at night. All she wants to do is provide for her two children, even if that means not eating herself.
The bond between Daniel and Katie is well realized. The connection they share is one a father and daughter would, growing love and compassion for one another organically. When Katie is sad, Daniel is as well, and vice versa. The chemistry between these two leads is some of the best I’ve seen on screen in years and especially chemistry that isn’t a romantic in nature.
If I had to fault I, Daniel Blake for something, it would be inconsistent tone the film concludes with. Ken Loache has a clear message he wants to convey throughout the movie. However, when a message becomes heavy handed and dialogue turns into a Wikipedia article, the realness of the performances and tone becomes contradictory to how these characters would talk.
There is also an emotional moment towards the final act of the film. The impact didn’t affect me as much as it should’ve, due to the extreme change in direction the film goes in. I felt the ending it had wasn’t necessary to drive the message home. It went from smart indie excellence to melodramatic and sappy.
Regardless of its unfulfilling ending, I, Daniel Blake is an excellent film with characters that are likable and real enough to get behind. You may leave the theater cold, but the journey was filled with warmth.
I, Daniel Blake is set to be released in Spring 2017