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The Old Oak movie review & film summary (2024)

The Old Oak movie review & film summary (2024)

An especially piercing moments sees Tara escort a local white teenager back to her house after she collapses during an athletic event due to lack of food; Tara then goes into the girl’s family’s kitchen to find her something to eat and learns that the cupboard and fridge are almost bare. In an earlier scene, TJ and Clair give a little Syrian girl a bike while three local boys look on. TJ explains that it’s an old bike that was donated, but that doesn’t make an impression on the boys, one of whom states that he also wants a bike. Nobody in this scene is wrong. There’s just a lot that needs to be worked out, and most of the contributing factors are beyond the scope or understanding of any one person in the scene.

Loach and Laverty have a clearly defined hierarchy of values that applies to all of their collaborations: they’re socialists who believe in a collective community and government responsibility to uplift one other, and define that responsibility against the cold, narcissistic ruthlessness of capitalism and the governments that it has corrupted and captured, and tie it all back to  an increasingly marginalized and mocked sense for what Christian values are actually supposed to be about. 

It’s relevant to the story that Durham was once apparently organized around the local church, which is now (it seems) barely operational. The decline of the church (which of course had its own problems) explains why The Old Oak has become such a valuable and fought-over meeting spot. The movie named for the bar has a spiritual dimension that was often downplayed in early Loach works. This is expressed not just through arguments and monologues about our moral responsibility to help the less fortunate but through the observation of people getting together and doing something that’s helpful and healing rather than marinating in despair or misdirecting their frustration, whether it’s bringing a mattress to a newly arrived family or staging a potluck dinner that will introduce the refugees to the locals, perhaps even building new relationships that can represent (though not replace, because individuals don’t have the power of governments) an economic safety net that’s been cut up and destroyed.

Loach has always made movies in what used to be called a “kitchen sink” mode. The stories are set in the real world, use real locations and some nonprofessional actors, encourage improvisation, and take their stories from contemporary or historical events that affect the everyday lives of working and/or struggling people. These are not the kinds of films where billionaires fly to Norway on a private jet to plot a corporate takeover, nor are there any genre movie elements (horror, science fiction, film noir, etc). The camerawork (overseen here by Robbie Ryan) focuses on capturing moments of interaction between individuals and groups of people rather than making statements on its own. 

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