'I, Daniel Blake' has focused story, strong acting

'Daniel,' which is directed by Ken Loach, centers on a widower woodworker who finds it difficult to get National Health benefits. Dave Johns comes across as an Everyman caught in the gears of an unfeeling system.

Joss Barratt/Sundance Selects
'I, Daniel Blake' stars Dave Johns (l.), Hayley Squires, Briana Shann, and Dylan McKiernan.

Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake,” which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, is yet another in a long line of Loach movies about social injustice in England as refracted through the lives of the underclass. I’ve often found his films to be more socially aware than dramatically involving and wondered why he didn’t simply make documentaries instead of the middling docudrama-like movies he usually offers up.

“I, Daniel Blake” is one of his better efforts because the story is powerfully focused and the acting is strong, which is not always the case with Loach's films.

Daniel Blake, a woodworker, is a widower from Newcastle, England whose recent heart attack supposedly qualifies him for National Health benefits. The bureaucrats, however, have made it so infuriatingly difficult for him to obtain those benefits that he might as well be appearing in a Brit version of “Catch-22.” (Example: His doctors say he is ineligible for work but, by applying for the employment allowance, which he needs major computer assistance to even fill out, he is by definition deemed fit to work.) 

Loach’s low-key naturalism, which barely masks his fury at the injustices perpetrated on screen, is matched by Dave Johns's performance as Daniel. Without seeming pretentious about it, he comes across as an Everyman caught in the gears of an unfeeling system. As the young, indigent mother he befriends, Hayley Squires equals his performance. Grade: B+ (Rated R for language.)

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