British director Ken Loach’s sympathies have always been with working people. He’s spent the past 50 years training his camera on the sort of folks who don’t get close-ups in a medium as glamour-obsessed as cinema. His latest, the winner of the Palme d’Or, is no different. It also couldn’t be more timely as a truth-to-power statement, since millions of Americans are probably about to lose their health care.
As the film opens, the title character (stand-up comic Dave Johns, wonderful) is being asked maddening questions by a National Health worker. Daniel is a widower with a heart condition. He’s too sick to go back to work as a carpenter and too well to receive benefits — the victim of a system more interested in protocol than people. But he’s not about to give up. “I’m like a dog with a bone,” he says in his pudding-thick Newcastle accent. Daniel befriends a single mother in a similar spot (Hayley Squires) who relies on the food bank while her daughter is teased at school because her sneakers are falling apart. Her shame is devastating. When Daniel tells her, “We all need the wind at our back now and again,” it’s hard not to get a little outraged and a lot choked up.
Loach’s film isn’t as stridently political as it probably sounds. These are just proud people who want to be treated with respect. There’s one slightly melodramatic turn near the end that felt off, but by then I was already three tissues deep. A–