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Reviews for December 23rd, 2016

I, Daniel Blake

Directed by Ken Loach

      Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a 59-year-old carpenter, had been receiving welfare benefits until recently when he received a letter from the government stating that his benefits are denied and he must find a job. However, under his doctor's orders, he can't work because of his heart condition after a recent heart attack. Repeated visits to the welfare office prove to be futile. He's even asked to create a CV and has to learn how to use a computer. Everything changes when he meets Katie (Hayley Squires) and her two young children, Daisy (Briana Shann) and Dylan (Dylan McKiernan), at the welfare office. He generously offers to help her move into her new apartment while she struggles to support her kids without money or a job. He provides her with something even more valuable than anything that money can buy: genuine friendship and compassion. Meanwhile, he refuses to give up on his battle against the unjust welfare system.

      With its warmth, tenderness and complex characters, I, Daniel Blake is a testament to the humanism of writer/director Ken Loach. The sensitive screenplay remains character-driven, unflinching and true-to-life from start to finish without going overboard in any particular direction. Loach has a lot to say about the bureaucratic nature of the welfare system, but he doesn't pound you over the head with messages nor does he paint those who work at the welfare office as a villains.

      Equally heartwarming and heartbreaking, I Daniel Blake is fundamentally about the importance compassion toward other human beings, a rare trait these days when most people are shallow, unreliable, inconsiderate and rude. Perhaps Daniel Blake knows how to treat others with respect because he's not obsessed with Twitter, Facebook and other impersonal ways of being personal. The film doesn't have the standard spectacles that tentpole films have. In other words, there are no explosions, high-speed car chases, gunfights or anything else that would require stunts or CGI, but so what? It has plenty of truth, and the spectacles can be found within its truths if you're a perceptive audience member. Its greatest feat, though, is that it actually earns its uplifting, crowd-pleasing third act every step of the way.

      The convincingly moving performances by Dave Johns and Hayley Squires also help to ground the film in realism while enriching it even further. Both actors become their characters, so Daniel and Katie both feel like complex, lived-in characters rather than caricatures. These are human beings who are worth caring about. Don't be surprised if you'll feel happy when they're happy and sad then they're sad. Most importantly, you'll think about them long after the end credits roll.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Sundance Selects .
Opens at IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
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