The film corresponds to Stephane Brize’s “The Measure of a Man,” which played in competition at Cannes in 2015. That picture told of dire social conditions for France’s oppressed working-class. Naturally, Loach’s film (authored by his longtime collaborator Paul Laverty) is set in the modern day United Kingdom. Where “Measure” fell short of satisfactorily enunciating a conspiracy of unethical corporatized agencies whose clear purpose is to exile citizens to the fringes of society, Laverty’s obviously researched script delves deeper into the black market underground that people are forced into choosing.
We also witness the banal ways that modern bureaucracies conspire to abuse, humiliate, and weaken people’s daily lives. If you didn’t believe there was an international war on the working class before seeing this film, you will grasp that fact before the credits roll. “I, Daniel Blake” is a clarion call for the united sea change of social revolution represented by such humanitarian standard bearers as Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, and Ralph Nader.
Using a cast of unknown (semi-professional) actors, Loach allows mundane social conditions that most of us are familiar with, to guide the escalating social drama. Colin Coombs gives a wonderfully contained performance as Daniel Blake, an experienced carpenter put out of his occupation due to a heart attack he suffered on the job. A man in his mid-50s, Blake’s unfamiliarity with using computers proves a major obstacle in traversing the UK's intentionally choppy bureaucratic waters to maintain his “Employment and Support Allowance” from the government. Every government agent he encounters uses corporate double-speak to abuse him. Frustrating hours spent on hold are only exacerbated when he finally gets someone on the phone. Daniel Blake is in danger of losing his benefits because an unseen “decision-maker” has denied Blake’s doctor’s diagnoses that he is unfit to work. The state forces him to spend 35 hours a week looking for work that he can’t accept if, or when, he gets a job offer.
While at the agency fighting for his benefits, Blake witnesses Katie (Hayley Squires), a mother with two children in tow, being refused service because she was late for her appointment. Blake speaks up in Katie’s defense when security guards attempt to eject her from the building. The two political outcasts strike up a meaningful friendship as Daniel comes to Katie's aid in helping repair conditions in her unheated apartment.
Dramatically understated, and yet precisely composed, "I, Daniel Blake" breathes with authenticity and unaffected emotion. While some critics have a tendency to be dismissive of Ken Loach for his constancy of purpose, I would argue that it is this exact trait that makes his films so compelling. It takes a special filmmaker to maintain such constancy of purpose. Long live Ken Loach.