I, Daniel Blake
The latest gut punch from Ken Loach, I, Daniel Blake speaks to the trials and tribulations of the decent common folk at the heart of modern civilization in ways few films attempt and even fewer pull off.
Masterfully written by Paul Laverty, Loach’s go-to collaborator since 1996’s Carla’s Song, the Palme d’Or winner features a revelatory turn by Dave Johns as the titular widowed Newcastle carpenter, nearly recovered from a heart attack that took him off the job.
A proud man but one nonetheless in need of government assistance while no paychecks are coming in, Daniel is forced to navigate the tedious systems in place that are meant to help those in a bind yet are rife with flaws.
Not quite healthy enough to return to work but ineligible to receive federal aid unless he goes looking, Daniel is an exception to rule after allegedly beneficial rule, caught in a series of catch-22s that his luddite ways are ill-equipped to combat. (If you can’t relate to his plight or know someone who can, you might need to get out more.)
Johns and the filmmakers excel at establishing this frustrating predicament, one that grows more complex when Daniel befriends London transplant Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother of two and a fellow victim of England’s well-meaning bureaucracy.
Out of the goodness of his heart — there’s thankfully no May-December romance to be found here — Daniel helps Katie get rooted in the community and becomes somewhat of a father figure to her children, all of which is a delight to behold.
His friendship and charity, however, only go so far, and as Katie seeks a better life for her kids by any means necessary, her lack of good judgment — accelerated by the infuriating dearth of career opportunities for someone of her background and in her situation — threatens to make things even harder for her household.
Fortunately, Daniel keeps an eye on things and, even at the risk of escalating of his own dire circumstances, intervenes when possible to get Katie back on track. The depths of their desperation culminates in a heartbreaking turn at a food bank, one that comes about so honestly yet unexpectedly that viewers may find themselves dabbing at their eyes.
As for the much criticized final act, while it teeters on the edge of overkill regarding the characters’ plights, it consistently feels true to their personalities and histories. Against such staggering odds, creative actions are sometimes the only ones capable of attracting attention, and to see the central figures of I, Daniel Blake break out in the ways they do is to witness the blooming of nothing less than the human spirit.
Grade: A. Rated R. Starts June 23 at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: IFC Films)