'I, Daniel Blake' movie review: Powerful, moving humanity takes on cold bureaucracy
Heart wrenching, humorous and quietly powerful, the masterful takedown of bureaucracy "I, Daniel Blake" (now playing in select theaters) puts a human face on those who fall through the cracks of government red tape.
In short: After Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a widower in his late 50s, suffers a massive heart attack, Blake's doctors tell him he is not healthy enough to work. Nonetheless, the government declares Blake "fit to work" and denies him disability assistance.
The frustrating bureaucratic wringer that Blake is forced to navigate is so utterly absurd that a version of this film could be played as flat-out satire. The byzantine process Blake is thrown into would be insanely hilarious - except "I, Daniel Blake" always reminds the audience that Blake's life and livelihood hangs in the balance. The situation is tragically ludicrous but the stakes are very real for Blake and the single mother (similarly neglected by the government) who he befriends.
"I, Daniel Blake" never takes away the dignity or integrity of its main characters. Actor Dave Johns is the ideal guide as he tries to navigate the absurd government red tape. The titular character could easily be any of us and Johns is perfectly cast as the frank, witty and earnest everyman stuck in an inflexible system with no room for humanity. While the story itself is not intrinsically funny, this film allows Blake to voice his blunt assessment of a patently silly bureaucracy rife with catch-22 pitfalls. John's humane and wry performance demands recognition. He is the heart and soul of a story focused on a cruel system without humanity.
Director Ken Loach's film is a plainly told tale that rejects overtly manipulative storytelling tools. The film has almost no scored soundtrack. The characters are common, everyday people facing a seemingly impossible government system and forced to make decisions that threaten to erode their dignity. The film's ending is one place where "I, Daniel Blake" decidedly becomes much less subtle - but it even handles its major plot swing in a way that makes it more moving and emotionally affecting (rather than settling for melodramatic).
Final verdict: "I, Daniel Blake" is a timely, unflinching, heartfelt and incredibly empathetic film that points out the dangerous cracks in the welfare system that virtually anyone can fall into.
"I, Daniel Blake" screened during the 43rd Seattle International Film Festival and is now playing in select theaters. The British drama is rated R for language and has a running time of 100 minutes.