Director Ken Loach’s film “I, Daniel Blake,” with a screenplay by Paul Laverty, is right on target in its depiction of citizens who rely on government aid but often run up against stifling red tape and suffer dire consequences.
There is a towering, award-worthy performance by Dave Johns in the title role as a British widowed woodworker being battered by the system as he seeks what is due him. Blake, who lives in Newcastle, has had a heart attack and is therefore unable to work. Loach chronicles his battle with bureaucracy and frustrating computer technology.
Johns’s performance reveals Blake’s heroism and sympathetic human side as he struggles for his rights until he can’t take it anymore. He quickly earns our sympathy for his decency and for the plight he is in.
There is another superb performance by Hayley Squires as Katie, a mother of two, who also is having her struggles. Blake and Katie form a warm freindship and give strength to one another. There is also Blake’s bonding with the children.
There are numerous especially impressive scenes. One displays the kind help that a government worker tries to provide, for which she is scolded by her boss. Another occurs when Katie and Blake go to a service that provides food to the needy. Katie, desperately hungry but not wanting to show it, sneaks into a corner, opens a can, and secretly devours the contents on the spot.
This older man and younger woman relationship is strictly as friends with a common need. The film is not spoiled by a screenplay that might have tumbled them into a sexual pairing. Instead, they get comfort as they aid each other.
Loach achieves a realistic atmosphere, an accomplishment at which he generally excels in his socially conscious films. There is also a sense of universality. Viewers in other countries can make comparisons with what goes on in their communities. Even though the film is heartbreaking, Johns’s performance makes Blake stand for all that is decent in human beings coming up against insensitive officials and red tape that needs to be compassionately cast aside, especially when health and lives are at stake. “I, Daniel Blake” makes the point emphatically and is one of the best films of 2016. A Sundance Selects release. Reviewed December 6, 2016.