I, Daniel Blake Movie Review
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Government offices that deal in public assistance for United States citizens are not known for their efficiency and compassion. The same sentiment apparently holds true in other countries. Dealing with the dis-empowered federal employees can cause assistance seekers to become disenfranchised and push them to their mental, financial and physical breaking points. The situation can be a major problem for people that are in serious need of help, and sometimes become a matter of life and death.
I, Daniel Blake (written by Paul Laverty and directed by Ken Loach) opens with an audio only introduction to the main character Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a middle-aged widower, who is on the phone, navigating a maze of government bureaucracy as he tries to secure the British equivalent of Temporary Disability. The long blank-screen sequence foreshadows the dark times ahead for Daniel, who was forced to leave his job as a carpenter due to health problems. Despite his doctors telling him that he is not healthy enough to go back to work, government workers repeatedly deny his claims for disability assistance and instead refer him to Job Seekers Allowance (the equivalent of unemployment insurance).
In order to qualify for unemployment insurance, Daniel must prove that he is still actively looking for work which puts him in a bad situation, because some employers offer him a job on the spot, but he has to decline due to his health. This leads the potential employers to ask why he is wasting their time. During one of his visits to the unemployment office, Daniel meets Katie (Hayley Squires). She is a young, out-of-work, single mother of two that recently relocated in the hopes of better job opportunities. Katie is also having trouble with the unemployment insurance office and her frustration causes an outburst that gets her escorted out of the building. Daniel steps in to smooth over the situation, befriends Katie and offers to help her family get settled in her new home.
They become very close friends, and Daniel becomes a father figure to Katie’s children. They rely on each other for everything, as they navigate the difficult job market, inefficient government offices, and dwindling finances. The situation becomes dire for both Katie and Daniel as they spiral downward from assistance seekers to food pantries to petty criminals. As this film reaches its conclusion, we see a light at the end of the tunnel for Daniel’s financial situation, but he can only get there if his health holds out.
This British film is powerful, realistic, moving and deserving of the handful of European movie awards that it received. With foreign films, it often occurs that some of the narrative is lost in translation, but that is not the case with I, Daniel Blake. The actors are probably unknown to most American movie goers, but they are seasoned and their work throughout is meticulous. The storyline is simple, but I found it easily to sympathize with the characters’ unfortunate situations. This is not an uplifting film, but is real, heartfelt and worth your time.