Combustible Celluloid
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With: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Briana Shann, Dylan McKiernan, Kate Rutter, Sharon Percy, Kema Sikazwe, Steven Richens
Written by: Paul Laverty
Directed by: Ken Loach
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 100
Date: 06/02/2017

I, Daniel Blake (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

System Failure

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I, Daniel Blake was director Ken Loach's second Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or winner, after The Wind That Shakes the Barley. It's another example of his brand of keenly-observed social realism, with moments that are genuinely touching mixed with moments of righteous indignation. Loach's frequent screenwriter, Paul Laverty, is back, and while he has a tendency to fall back on simplistic, melodramatic moments, Loach is mostly capable of smoothing them out; this turns out to be one of their best collaborations.

Dave Johns gives a very strong performance in the title role, a working man that has suffered a heart attack and is slowly recovering. He's good with his hands, but knows nothing about computers -- he doesn't even know to click a mouse -- and when his benefits are suddenly taken away, he's stuck. His doctors tell him he's not ready to go back to work, but the system tells him he must; he has no other income. While waiting in an office to speak with someone, he comes to the rescue of single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) and her two children Daisy (Briana Shann) and Dylan (Dylan McKiernan) from two different fathers. He helps her with some household things, and they become friends.

The movie momentarily sinks when a store security guard offers Katie a chance to become a call girl, and she takes him up, prompting Daniel to come to her rescue, but Loach gets through these sequences painlessly. The material is grim, but it comes to life, and feels more like observing than receiving a lecture. As always, the director creates a vivid universe, introducing Daniel's next-door neighbor who sells cheap shoes in the streets, as well as the many hours spent waiting on the phone on hold, the chilly gray of the UK, and Daniel's lovely woodcrafting work (he makes mobiles of fish). I, Daniel Blake builds to a triumphant moment, and then a blow to bureaucracy; it simply states that a man is a man, and not a number in a system.

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