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Steel Toes (2006)

by on 2011/07/24

“It is the hardest kind of right there is.”

* * *

I may never want to wear Doc Martens again. You’ll understand why in a moment.

What happens when a human being is completely taken over entirely by hate, anger and revenge? Is there ever any coming back?

Steel Toes, the 2006 Montreal film, spelunks the depths of these questions through the characters of Michael Downey (Andrew Walker) and Danny Dunkelman (David Strathairn).

Michael Downey is a Neo-Nazi skinhead. He has a swastika tattooed onto the nape of his neck and a Canadian flag tattooed on his shoulder. He’s drunk on rage and you know, just plain drunk.

Michael and his shiny steel-toed Doc Martens stomp, kick and crush a man named Vikram (Ivan Smith) in an alleyway for accidentally spilling dishwater on his skinhead uniform. Vikram’s other crime? – being mistaken for being Muslim.

This hard-working immigrant begs for his life on the filthy ground only to wind up suffering for weeks in hospital when he eventually dies.

Michael confesses to the crime but a really big part of his goose-stepping self remains not only unrepentant but nauseatingly proud of his actions.

Enter his lawyer Danny Dunkelman (David Strathairn), a caring, hard-working “liberal, Jewish” public defender. Wrestling down his revulsion for his client, Danny vows – against his own instincts – to mount a zealous defence.

Because you see, Danny Dunkelman is a better person than you or I. His father taught him that you must be particularly protective of “those who want you dead.” If you don’t extend the hand of compassion and love to those who hate, you are no better than they are.

As his father explains, “this is the hardest kind of right there is.”

In the pursuit of this hard right, Danny sacrifices everything to bring Michael back from the brink of hateful oblivion. The process is explosive and unsettling.

This mainly interior drama, based on the play Cherry Docs, brings powerful performances from both Strathairn and Walker. Walker is a hard-bodied force of nature as the repellant racist.

Ivan Smith as the victim Vikram is heartbreaking. Even from his hospital bed, Vikram offers Michael his absolution. “If I am destined to die, it is my great honour to offer (Michael) my forgiveness.” Vikram is also better than you or I.

The amount of casual, unapologetic racism I see around me never ceases to be chilling. Steel Toes is a warning and a cold bucket of water on the somnambulant citizens, like myself, waking us up.

* * *

90 minutes

Rated R for a brutal, brutal, brutal attack and for hateful language

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  1. Month in Review: July 2011 « Geek vs Goth

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