Directed by: Ken Loach
Starring: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Briana Shann, Sharon Percy, Stephen Clegg and Kate Rutter
Run Time: 1h 40mins
4 ½ Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
At the beginning of the film, there is only sound. We hear a man answering questions presented to him by a healthcare professional. The questions are frustrating him as they don’t have anything to do with the reason he’s calling but he gets on with answering them anyway as he’s expected to. Some of this is quite comical but when you realize how serious his situation is, you see that the “professional” in health isn’t exactly helpful and certainly doesn’t seem to care much for what he has to say; which is the theme of the movie.
Daniel Blake, (Johns, in his first feature film), is an older man who until recently was a carpenter. He has a serious heart condition and his doctor hasn’t cleared him to work. Due to something he’s sure is an error, he is all of the sudden considered eligible to work and loses his unemployment benefits. Seems now he can only receive a “job seekers allowance,” which is considerably smaller and not something he can live on. He can file an appeal, it’ll be looked at and, hopefully, it will come back in his favor. Obstacle after obstacle is in this man’s way. Not only is it nearly impossible for someone to get through on the phone to these “professionals” because they’re out of touch with patients (they’re sitting in a call center), but Daniel finds that almost everything in the modern world has to do everything from the computer. He doesn’t own one and hasn’t used one. Obviously, this is a big problem for him. I wonder how many people truly have this problem around the world which makes this movie such an intriguing subject for writer Paul Laverty and director Ken Loach, both of whom made The Wind That Shakes the Barley together, to broach. I’d think many will be glad they did; showing that not everyone is computer savvy which is a sort of discrimination. The film also exposes the truth of what Social Security looks like in this day and age. Are all of us one step away from losing everything we have and begging for food? Told often in a comical fashion, the film is actually a drama that brings to light the social injustices that can befall any of us at any moment.
Daniel is a marvelous character. He may be down but don’t count him out. Having paid his taxes all his life, he will fight to get what’s rightfully his. While in the Social Security office going round and round with a member of the staff, getting nowhere and now being asked to wait, he notices a woman, Katie (Squires). She’s with two children and is getting kicked out for daring to ask for some forgiveness. She’s new to the area, got lost and couldn’t help being a bit late to her appointment. Katie is being turned away and being the good, kind, caring person that Daniel is, he steps in and creates a scene. He essentially asks someone behind a desk to find a heart and treat her with dignity and respect. They’re both kicked out and he ends up helping her himself. This leads to a wonderful friendship. It’s nothing sexual, just a beautiful, caring, friendship between two people who have what the other needs… some love to offer. Daniel and Katie are in a class struggle and for the rest of the film we see what people are put through by a system not really meant to help people, but to rather lead them quicker to the deathbed to save the state some money. They’re both stuck in the mother of all Catch-22’s.
In order to keep his benefits, he’s asked to look for a job and show proof he’s looking or he’ll lose what he IS getting. As we’ve established, with his heart condition, if he were to actually get a job, he’d have to turn it down because of his heart condition… not that any of this is doing him any good. Helping Katie and her children, who have just moved into government housing and are having a tough time with things, puts a smile on his face and will yours, as well. In an incredibly moving scene, Daniel takes Katie to a food bank and, so hungry that she can’t wait, Katie opens a can of food while standing at the shelf she took it from, she starts shoving it in her mouth. The scene is so well done I couldn’t help but cry some. Eventually, she ends up finding work to pay the bills but not a job she, nor Daniel, are too happy about.
There are exquisitely crafted scenes and also political tidings in I, Daniel Blake. There are clear messages of the times that one might want to observe while being entertained but don’t see this as a political film because it’s not. It’s a very human story that shows how fallible we are and reveals the truth about how we’re left stranded by the very organization that’s supposed to care for us all. We also see people go out of their way for one another in a manner I haven’t seen in a film in awhile. It’s a touching narrative and the cast is top notch. In the end, Daniel gets to say how he feels. His words are biting as he explains how he’s not a blip on a screen or a number but he’s a citizen who has paid his dues. There’s a powerful ending with a message that says, ‘I’m just Daniel Blake; a person who needs to be treated like one.’ I expect your cheeks may flush when you see how this story ends. I do strongly recommend this film. There are a few times the accent gets a little too thick to understand but luckily it doesn’t happen very often.