'I, Daniel Blake' Review: Director Ken Loach Skewers The System British director Ken Loach is both an award-winning filmmaker and a social activist. His latest film combines those passions.
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'Daniel Blake' Skewers The Red Tape That Keeps The Downtrodden Down

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'Daniel Blake' Skewers The Red Tape That Keeps The Downtrodden Down

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Movie Reviews

'Daniel Blake' Skewers The Red Tape That Keeps The Downtrodden Down

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

British director Ken Loach is both an award-winning filmmaker and a social activist. His latest film, "I, Daniel Blake," combines those two passions. It's about a man tangled in bureaucratic red tape. And though Loach cast a stand-up comic in the title role, critic Bob Mondello says the film is about a situation almost no one would regard as funny.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: We've all been in Daniel Blake's shoes, trying to get a faceless bureaucracy to just hear us.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "I, DANIEL BLAKE")

NATALIE ANN JAMIESON: (As Employment Support Allowance Assessor) Good morning, Mr. Blake. My name's Amanda. I've got a couple of questions here for you today to establish your eligibility for employment support allowance. It won't take up much of your time.

MONDELLO: This conversation takes place under the opening credits.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "I, DANIEL BLAKE")

JAMIESON: (As Employment Support Allowance Assessor) Could I just ask firstly, can you walk more than 50 meters unassisted by any other person?

DAVE JOHNS: (As Daniel) Yes.

JAMIESON: (As Employment Support Allowance Assessor) OK. Can you raise either arm as if to put something in your top pocket?

JOHNS: (As Daniel) I filled it in already on your 52-page form.

JAMIESON: (As Employment Support Allowance Assessor) Yeah, I see that you have, but unfortunately I couldn't make out what you had said there.

MONDELLO: You've heard about the rock and the hard place.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "I, DANIEL BLAKE")

JAMIESON: (As Employment Support Allowance Assessor) Can you raise either arm to the top of your head as if you were putting on a hat?

JOHNS: (As Daniel) I've told you, there's nothing wrong with me arms and legs.

JAMIESON: (As Employment Support Allowance Assessor) Could you just answer the question please?

JOHNS: (As Daniel) Well, you've got me medical records. Can we just talk about me heart?

MONDELLO: Daniel Blake had a heart attack on the job. He looks hale and hearty. He's not.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "I, DANIEL BLAKE")

JAMIESON: (As Employment Support Allowance Assessor) So was that a yes that you can put a hat on your head?

JOHNS: (As Daniel) Yes.

JAMIESON: (As Employment Support Allowance Assessor) OK, that's great. Do you have any significant difficulty conveying a simple message to strangers?

JOHNS: (As Daniel) Yes, yes, it's [expletive] hard. I'm trying to tell you, but you're not listening.

JAMIESON: (As Employment Support Allowance Assessor) Mr. Blake, if you continue to speak to us like that, that's not going to be very helpful for your assessment.

MONDELLO: I mentioned a rock and a hard place. In Daniel's case, the rock is England's National Health Service. The hard place - its pensions department. His doctors say he should avoid stress. The pensions folks...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "I, DANIEL BLAKE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) On the one hand, job seeker's allowance is only for those able and ready to work. But if you're ill, you'll have to apply for employment and support.

JOHNS: (As Daniel) Well, then can you give me a form for, you know, job seeker's allowance and then an appeal form for employment and support?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You have to apply online, sir.

JOHNS: (As Daniel) I cannot do that. You know, you give me a plot of land, I can build you a house. But I've never been anywhere near a computer.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) But you know what? We're digital by default.

JOHNS: (As Daniel) Well, I'm pencil by default.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) There's a special number if you've been diagnosed as dyslexic.

JOHNS: (As Daniel) Right, well, can you give us that because with computers, I'm dyslexic.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You'll find it online, sir.

MONDELLO: Director Ken Loach isn't just skewering a system that seems designed more to frustrate than to help. He's arguing that a prosperous society that places obstacles in the paths of people who are already struggling ought to be ashamed of itself. And he's arguing it with a passion that is contagious - first when the title character, who's played with wit and resilience by Dave Johns, tries to struggle free of his own red tape and then when Daniel tries to help a young single mother who's getting a different sort of runaround.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "I, DANIEL BLAKE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You've created a scene. I think you need...

HAYLEY SQUIRES: (As Katie) Oh, I've created a - no, Mate...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I think I need you to leave the building.

SQUIRES: (As Katie) ...If I was going to create a scene, you'd know about it. Trust me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You need to leave the building.

SQUIRES: (As Katie) Well, what am I supposed to do?

JOHNS: (As Daniel) Jesus Christ, who's first in the queue?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) I am.

JOHNS: (As Daniel) Do you mind if this young lass...

SQUIRES: (As Katie) Come here.

JOHNS: (As Daniel) ...Signs on first?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) No, no, you carry on.

JOHNS: (As Daniel) There you go. Now you can go back to your desk and let us sign on and do the job that a taxpayer pays you for. This is a bloody disgrace.

MONDELLO: He gets them all thrown out, but in the process, he makes a friend. Soon, Daniel's playing grandfather, popping over to the woman's apartment to fix heaters. And when he sees that she's barely eating so her kids will have more, he accompanies her to a food bank.

There, she endures a humiliation that should move the most hardened supply-sider and that will remind audiences that Ken Loach remains in his 80th year not just a crusader for but a poet of the underclass.

Yes, "I, Daniel Blake" is a piece of social-realist fiction. It's also a cinematic cry from the heart, uncommonly resonant at this moment in time. I'm Bob Mondello.

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