Ken Loach’s latest film is a deceptively simple yet shattering and a step up from I, Daniel Blake
Did you ever stop to think about the exhausted delivery person ringing your bell while trying to catch his breath to deliver your parcel and move on to the next customer? We mostly think about our parcels, the products we waited for – but behind every parcel is a man with a story.
In his follow-up to his Palme d’or winning film I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach delivers yet another social issues film but with far more impact. Thanks to a less heavy-handed approach and a laser-focus on family and not activism, Sorry We Missed You never lacks the urgency of Loach’s best works but is far more effective because it showcases the impact and not just the cause.
Ricky (a shattering performance by Kris Hitchen) is married to Abby (Debbie Honeywood, also superb) and live with their two children in Newcastle. As the promise of the gig-economy and self-employment grows, Ricky considers joining one of the country’s most successful parcel delivery app-based companies. In the first meeting, they tell him he’s going to be ‘his own boss’, ‘never working for them but with them’ and ‘with zero contracts’. It all looks perfect and liberating, compared to the burden of a regular job with fixed pay. By delivering more parcels on time, Ricky can simply make more money in hopes of buying a family house. But at what cost?
In Loach’s other films, particularly his most-lauded, the director tends to weave his narrative with a blunt, sometimes heavy-handed but sincere, showcase of the roots of the social issue at hand. But with Sorry We Missed You, he takes a step back and chooses to focus on the impact on a family of four. After establishing the issue in the film’s somber first half, the film never loses its focus on the fractures within the family due to an absent father, a burdened mother who works as a caregiver for most of the day and two young children wondering what the future might hold. The continuous absence of both father and mother, working tirelessly to provide for their children, leaves serious ramifications on their children – but when Ricky doubles up his working hours, the gap between him and his family grows larger and larger.
In the film’s strongest scene, Seb, the eldest kid asks what’s the point of all of this: education, family, the future – it’s not the question of who he wants to be, it’s the question of what he can avoid. He never wants to be his father, a living ghost who is burdened with debts and working 14 hours a day with no hope of ever rising above their dire social class, a forgotten segment of society who is left to battle with life while others simply choose to ignore their existence.
This is a film that is both urgent in its message about the deceptive nature of the gig economy which has turned workers into modern-day slaves, and shattering in its portrayal of people on the margins. There are no loud scenes of workers protesting their rights, or (as in I, Daniel Blake) a string of battles between the layman and a higher authority. The struggle remains, but quietly, painfully, profoundly. It’s in the film’s silent scenes, with piercing and heartbreaking performances by its cast, that it really soars. There is nothing particularly showy, cinematic or complex about Sorry We Missed You – but that’s entirely the point. Within its conventional sets, carefully crafted but brief dialogue, regularly-lit scenes and restrained narrative, the agony is present and the cry for humanity as loud as ever.