Ken Loach’s latest film opens with a frustrating conversation in which the film’s titular protagonist (Dave Johns) is unable to discuss a recent heart attack with a ‘healthcare professional’, who seems more interested in the movement of his arms. It is humorous and exasperating and all too familiar, and I, Daniel Blake continues in this fashion until its inevitable climax.
This is a vital film, exposing the exploitative British welfare system, and Loach revels in displaying the sheer incompetence of it all. Everything feels rather hopeless and, as an audience, we can’t help but murmur along in agreement to Blake’s increasing rage. Sadly, this unabashed anger comes at a price: Loach’s approach is contradictory, as his film is at once both blatantly unsubtle and ultra-realistic. Dialogue comes across as a superficial way of conveying Loach’s one-dimensional views rather than advance the plot, at odds with the naturalism of its camerawork and acting.
Yet, amid the bluntness, Johns deftly communicates the feeling of the world leaving him behind and the film is potent when focusing on this theme. It is a poignant, well-acted, infuriating film, but a film that’s too obvious and melodramatic in imparting its central message.