Like a blunt instrument, Ken Loach’s angry, timely I, Daniel Blake forgoes any sense of subtlety or restraint in favour of focused, heavy-handed beats – in both plot and character – that you will see coming from a mile away. Essentially a mouthpiece film used to raise awareness for the poverty problem in Britain, the film unfolds more like a “how to get angry at the British government in 100 minutes” seminar than an actual story coloured with nuance and cinematic ennui. However, in his earnestness and sympathy for the working-class, Loach’s furore is tolerable.
Despite the performances lacking consistency – as with most Loach movies the core cast are all great but the periphery faces are shakier, though what they lack in acting talent they make up for with local authenticity – the film is an engaging watch. At times it can feel manipulative in its endless attempts to pull at the heartstrings, or by constantly painting Blake into a corner (I don’t doubt many have experienced his situation but the constant presence of unhelpful officials and relentless bad luck does feel a little contrived) but clearly this is a film pitched to as wide an audience as possible in order to get the message out. Loach has always preferred to be seen as the working-man’s filmmaker – a voice for the people – rather than the art-house darling his awards cabinet and reputation might have you believe, and he is on characteristic form here, as politically motivated as ever.
Sure enough, this film lacks an elegance in its plot movements and character developments that I usually crave but somehow I can forgive their absence being that working as a stand-alone film and story don’t seem to be Loach’s endgame. Ace DOP Robbie Ryan does as much as he can within Loach’s framework (showy and cinematic are a big no-no) but this isn’t a film as much as it is a conversation starter; a filmic protest designed to get people mad as hell and declare that they aren’t going to take it anymore. Judging from its surprising success here in the UK, with audiences beyond the art-house crowd, and Loach’s extensive presence in the current media not to mention the Palme d’or win, I’d say it’s definitely achieving its goal. Not really my kind of thing (I’ve never been down with Loach) but I can appreciate the message and passionate anger behind it.