Tropic Sprockets / I, Daniel Blake
By Ian Brockway
The uncompromising Ken Loach delivers a piercing look at government bureaucracy in “I, Daniel Blake.” The film is as sincere as it is brave and doesn’t take the easy way out, nor does it opt for any sentimental conventions. It is all the more powerful for being understated and even in its tone.
The talented comedian Dave Johns stars in the title role of Daniel, a glib and honest carpenter from Newcastle, England, who is a bit shy. Daniel is sixty-nine and has recently experienced a heart attack making him unfit for his skilled work. Daniel meets with an economic support counselor but is found ineligible for benefits despite physician reports. He is flabbergasted and moderately upset, but agrees to file an appeal.
He endures hours on the phone with little pertinent information given and then told that the necessary forms must be completed online. He makes an appointment at the support office and attempts to complete the form but Daniel is at sea with the computer and it logs him out of the network.
While there, he sees that Katie (the playwright Hayley Squires) a plucky single mom with two kids is engaged in a heated argument with another counselor. Frustrated, Daniel takes Katie’s side of the argument, although this gets them both removed from the office.
A bond is formed. Daniel agrees to help Katie with house repairs. Katie is in dire economic straits as well, almost more so than Daniel Blake. David Johns is excellent as is Hayley Squires and the pair display a wonderful and affectionate rapport.
In small parcels of action, the tension of both Daniel and Katie is deftly handled with not a beat or an emotion ringing false or out of place. The narrative is earthily authentic with not one moment ham-handed or syrupy. Though the office and government commissary scenes will tug at the heart, the film is not without levity with Daniel giving sharp barbs to a few stuffy employment officials.
Though the end is not easy, the story is unflinchingly real and does not pander or handwring. At times painful, this is a study of a confusing and dispassionate system with two citizens caught within its grind.
“I, Daniel Blake” is a striking yelp of conscience and it is one of Ken Loach’s best.