This movie is a surprise. Daniel Blake is an older gentleman who cared for his sick wife until her death, who has now fallen on hard times himself after a heart attack leaves him unable to work. Well, unable to work according to his doctor and his surgeon and his physio team. Totally fit to work according to the government who would otherwise owe him some sort of compensation.
Blake (Dave Johns) was receiving benefits for disability until a “health professional” (read: NOT a doctor, NOT a nurse) deems him fit and yanks his benefits. He must now apply for unemployment benefits, while combing the streets for a job, which actual doctors have cautioned him not to take, on account of his bum heart and it possibly killing him. The bureaucracy gives him the runaround, of course, as he must learn to navigate computers and the internet and smart phones and this whole world of job searching that he’s never had use for in his entire life. The whole experience is degrading, dehumanizing. And yet the film never feels that way. The movie is filled with humanity – not just compassion but admiration. Dignity, even. It’s a much more heartening experience than you might deduce.
Of course Daniel isn’t alone in his plight. At one office or another he meets a single mother (Hayley Squires), struggling to support her two kids. With them we see Daniel’s tender side, his need to give what little he has to others. It’s enough to make you cry (which means it made me cry, good honest tears that the film earned without manipulation).
The characters are quite strongly drawn. Their ordeal feels all too real. It’s sad though. So sad. It’s just further reminder that the system is letting down too many people who truly need it. Though this film is British, it feels universal. The righteous anger is restrained just enough not to be alienating, but to bring everyone into the fold, to make us all feel the iniquity and yearn for justice. A must-see.