I, Daniel Blake Review: Human Interest

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Ken Loach’s greatest achievement with I, Daniel Blake is that the film manages to discuss a particular issue—thoroughly at that—while still displaying individual characters who don’t just feel like vehicles to the root of the issue. The titular Daniel Blake (Dave Johns, terrific) is a fully realized person with flaws and strengths, some of which bleed over into each other. The welfare system that continues to fail him over and over again isn’t the power behind the film, just a significant part of a story that is chiefly Daniel’s.

Widowed and having recently suffered a heart attack, Daniel is trying to return to work when we meet him, but his doctor won’t sign off on it. That said, an assessment proves that he’s capable, forcing him into a crack where the government won’t grant him a support allowance but he can’t actually go back to work. Daniel, a simple man with a short temper, though one that never actually results in violence, isn’t up to date on the world’s technology boom, leaving him jobless and in a rut he can’t seem to get out of. The film shows his quest just to get an appeal, and the trials that have taken over his day to day life.

Along the way, he meets Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother who moved from London where she was homeless, who’s also just trying to find work to support her family. Through Katie, Daniel’s softer side comes through, giving him the pathos the script needs to land where it wants to emotionally.

And it does. I, Daniel Blake may be a relatively simple film, and it’s ending is decidedly bleak, but the film’s manner in which it tackles its issues is like a great human interest story in a high-brow but honorable news journal. Holding it all together is Johns, a great discovery (this is his first feature film after a small number of television credits) that breathes emotionality into a complicated system. Without him, the film’s important dissection of the U.K.’s welfare system would lose its heart. And heart feels like the whole reason Loach went after this issue. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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