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Review: I, Daniel Blake

May 5, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

After suffering a major heart attack on a construction site, Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a widowed 59-year-old carpenter who has been a hard worker and proud taxpayer all his years, is trying to go after government support in order to pay his bills.

But he ends up stuck in the revolving doors of a welfare system that makes benefits almost impossible to access, as he keeps getting denied and told to wait for appeals that seemingly never come.  When he meets Kattie (Hayley Squires), a young single mother who is also being given a hard time at the welfare centre and is struggling to support her two kids (Briana Shann and Dylan McKiernan), Daniel becomes an unlikely friend to the young family and starts helping them out.

Directed by Ken Loach, and the surprise winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year, I, Daniel Blake is a deeply moving work that carries with it a timely social message.  As Daniel meets every bureaucratic curveball thrown at him with resilience and quiet protest, despite growing more and more tired with the whole process, the film turns into a powerful indictment of how state welfare systems are made to not only fail their citizens, but also grind them away in the process until they lose their dignity.

Featuring raw and naturalistic performances from Dave Johns and Hayley Squires, who make their characters both sympathetic and deeply relatable, I, Daniel Blake is an absolutely gutting human drama, that keeps building with quietly devastating little moments depicting the realities of poverty, until the final few scenes hit us with a profound emotional impact.

I, Daniel Blake is now playing in limited release at Varsity Cinemas in Toronto.

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