Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
Here’s another pandemic “opening” that happens online. If you’d like to see Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You and—thanks to the KinoMarquee initiative—have some of the ticket price bounce back to Seattle’s Grand Illusion theater, use this link: https://kinonow.com/sorry-we-missed-you-the-grand-illusion
Here’s my review.
Sorry We Missed You
With Ken Loach’s movies, there is always the possibility they’ll be so Loach-y they’ll seem redundant, or by rote, or just too much already. One reason I cherish The Wind That Shakes the Barley is that it finds Loach working in a lusher period form, albeit with similar political concerns as always. Sure enough, Sorry We Missed You is set in the British underclass, with perennial issues relating to the crumbling social system and an overall sense of anger about inequality. So if the director were going to fall back on well-established habits, this would be the place.
It’s a little familiar, for sure. And there isn’t a lot of fun to be had along the way. But I’m glad to report that Loach (working again with screenwriter Paul Lavery) is in excellent form here, a result of his eye for telling detail and a strong grasp of where the “big scenes” should be, even if they don’t always seem like big scenes at the time. One other factor that works extremely well here: The main cast is made up of people with no (or extremely limited) experience as actors, a tactic that makes the characters seem all that much closer to the unglamorous world they inhabit.
The setting is Newcastle; in the opening sequence we meet Ricky (Kris Hitchen), a ginger-haired, beaten-around survivor, as he signs on with a delivery service that will allow him to “be his own boss,” or so he thinks. What it really means is that he’ll have to pay for his own van, while being detected at every second by the scanning device that tracks his packages and also tells him where to be and when. Ricky’s wife Abby (Debbie Honeywood), a home carer, is also part of the gig economy, getting paid per home visit. Their kids (Rhys Stone and Katie Proctor) struggle to keep up with the family’s many setbacks, and act out in their own ways.
Loach’s work with the cast is superlative, including the smart, expressive young actors. A case in point is Ross Brewster, as Ricky’s supervisor, Maloney. Beefy and straightforward, with the badge-of-aggression shaved head you knew he’d have, Maloney is a master of a particular kind of capitalism that flatters its victims with appeals to both their rugged individualism and an especially revolting kind of team-oriented corporate-speak. Whether publically humiliating his drivers by encouraging them to take each other’s routes (a ritual in which both loser and winner are unmanned), or in a near-Shakespearian soliloquy about how he stays “on” every day in order to “feed” the scanning device, Brewster is authoritative and scarily good. It’s his first screen credit; IMDb says he was a cop in Durham for 22 years.
Sorry We Missed You lodges its complaints in specific ways, including how an economic system that undercuts unions is inviting catastrophe, and how technical advances have resulted in devices that beep at us during what should be peaceful moments. It isn’t all miserabilism; there are cheerful moments, most of which have humble attributes, like a family singing together in a car on a rare night off. But Loach and Lavery don’t hold anything back (there’s a repeated motif of people being soaked with their own urine, a brutal comment on how civilized the world is now). As so often with Loach, the sharply-identified details are the key, and they are often heart-rending, even in their texture; the way, for instance, a low-lit argument between husband and wife in their bedroom at night is muted, and shamed, by their 11-year-old daughter’s muffled voice suddenly sounding from the room next door: “Stop fighting!”
Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.