Sunday, 4 September 2016

I, DANIEL BLAKE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - Bureaucrats Who Kill With Joy

I, Daniel Blake (2016)
Dir. Ken Loach
Scr. Paul Laverty
Starring: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Dylan McKiernan, Briana Shann

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In a world where it seems that the poor are better off dying than face the indignity of their supposed benefactors, one wonders what's more evil - the government or its vile, petty bureaucrats who coldly implement policies designed to keep people down whilst supporting the greed of the 1%.

Ken Loach, one of cinema's great humanitarians, takes us on a harrowing roller coaster ride of those caught up in the cold-blooded silos of social assistance in contemporary Britain. I, Daniel Blake tells the story of a 59-year-old skilled construction worker (Dave Johns) who suffers a heart-related accident on the job and rightfully applies for benefits. In spite of his serious condition and a desire to get better and return to work, a soulless clerk purporting to be a "medical expert" ticks off a ludicrous series of boxes which deny him basic care.

He is allowed to appeal, of course, but the process to do so is fraught with hurdles clearly designed to keep people like Daniel Blake from getting what's rightfully due to them. He's eventually shuffled into a spurious bandaid program which forces him to look for work even though he is medically prohibited from doing so.

His journey makes for the stuff of great drama, but screenwriter Daniel Laverty and leading man Johns create a character of considerable humour and warmth. Even as we furiously engage in his plight (to the point of wanting to put our fists into the faces of all the fools on the government side of the desk), I, Daniel Blake is almost endlessly laugh-out-loud funny, often downright joyous.

A concurrent subplot involving Daniel's friendship with Katie (Hayley Squires) a struggling single Mom and her two kids caught up in a similarly infuriating bureaucratic is the source of deeply moving humanity. Though Daniel's character slips into an old-fashioned patriarchal disdain for Katie's tough employment choice to help her kids, Loach allows us to be both angered by his response whilst understanding it completely.

The film creates a rich tapestry of supporting characters, a superb sense of place and small victories which take on the force of tidal wave-like power as Loach plunges us into a world that never feels false. Funny, bittersweet and tear-wrenching, I, Daniel Blake will preach to the converted with aplomb, but should be required viewing for every petty bureaucrat in the world.

Those callous shits need to be strapped into chairs like Alex in A Clockwork Orange and forced to see this film. It will provide a searing mirror image, but also an unflinching portrait of the damage they cause to all those who do most of the living and dying in our world.


I, Daniel Blake is a Mongrel Media Release at TIFF 2016.