As far as I know, the only Ken Loach film I’d seen before this one was Kes, so I didn’t have much of a handle on Loach as a director. Thus, in my usual bit of research into these films before I see them, I looked into Loach himself, who is apparently quite the political hotrod as a director in the U.K., which I hadn’t been aware of. Watching a film like I, Daniel Blake, however, this becomes readily apparent, as the film itself deals with the unemployment system in England and how all the red tape and bureaucracy dehumanize the regular working man instead of treating them like people and managing to help them. Seeing as I am not in the exact same situation as the Daniel Blake of the film, but understanding and empathizing with his circumstances, I was able to view this film from both angles; as someone who would be outraged at the treatment of Blake as the film puts across, while also being aware that this is a film that is deliberately trying to put this sort of thing across. That might not be Loach’s intention with his making this; he would likely rather that I be squarely in the former camp, but the specificity of the circumstances in the film unfortunately limits that possibility from happening, with me and with the general cinematic public as well. Even so, I, Daniel Blake manages to work as a pretty decent film, despite the limited range of the film’s genesis as a cinematic cattle-prod.
Daniel Blake is a hard-headed, decent-working man in northern England who’s just survived a heart attack, and wants nothing more than to get healthy again and go back to work. Being an average man in the system, however, he’s put through the bureaucratic runaround, seeing as one government agency says he’s fit to work and thus ineligible for employment assistance, and his doctor and physician are saying he’s not yet healthy enough to return to his job. It’s through his running around in the system that he happens to meet Katie, a young single mother just moved to the area who’s also stuck in the system trying to get a job, and the two end up befriending one another and trying to help each other get by, especially as Daniel’s case leads him toward appeal court through the same system that’s been treating him like a statistic or a number instead of as a human being. The first thing that becomes very apparent watching I, Daniel Blake is that this isn’t a film with the purpose of wowing you with how well-made a film it is; the technicals are enough to get by and get the story told, and little more than that. No, this is a film that has something to say, with well-constructed characters put into positions to get the narrative point across through their actions and what happens as a result of their actions. Chief among these assets is the main character himself, Daniel Blake, played by Dave Johns, who manages to keep Blake humane and relatable even and sometimes because of his short temper regarding his bureaucratic situation. Secondary in the constellation of characters Blake interacts with is Katie, who provides a sympathetic foil for Blake as well as a backup for his endeavors, which proves essential when the film gets into its endgame. Also, heads up on the accents in the film; it’s not nearly as indecipherable as Kes, but it’ll take a few minutes or so to get used to.
There’s really very little to be said about this film, which makes it of course a struggle for someone like me to try and write a review about it. If you can take to what this film says about its world and what the characters go through, it will be very affecting; if not, then it will only be mildly so, if that. That’s unfortunately all I’m able to scrounge up in regards to I, Daniel Blake, which is a bit of a shame since the film itself really wants to be a lot more than that, and the only reason it’s not is because of how specific its drive is towards what it wants to say. I’m actually a little surprised this managed to win the Palme d’Or, as stripped-down as it is, but I guess it just hit the right note with the jury that year. It hit a hard note with me as well, but again, as I am not essentially the same man as Daniel Blake, it didn’t hit that note as hard as it otherwise would’ve. And, to repeat a recurring statement with my reviews towards films like this, I’m not convinced this is really a must-see film, but (again) neither is it a poor watch should you decide to see it.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10