TJ Ballantyne (Dave Turner) owns “The Old Oak”, a pub in a village north of England. The pub has seen better days and relies on a small group of regular customers who visit often. It’s also evident that the community members have never recovered from the loss of the mining industry, which has had a profound impact. To make matters more challenging, many residents are not pleased and continually express their ongoing frustrations as more Syrian refugees move into the community.
When TJ Ballantyne helps one of the refugees repair their broken camera, an unlikely bond and friendship develop, and soon, when word gets out around the pub, customers are not overly kind and express harsh remarks. But this only encourages TJ Ballantyne to do better in his community, and his desire to help soon sparks a change in everyone around him.
The Old Oak is best described as a slow-burning drama film directed by Ken Loach, known for many other hard-hitting drama films, including I, Daniel Blake and Sorry We Missed You. Serving as his final feature behind the camera, the Director delivers a relatively heavy, dramatic film with many positive messages and themes.
As for issues with the film, I can’t deny it: I found this one remarkably slower than I preferred, particularly in the second act. Thankfully, the third act is powerful and gripping. While the messages and story are positive, I couldn’t help but think that the entire film felt familiar and safe, as it didn’t introduce anything new or groundbreaking. Performances, for the most part, are fine, but some side performances either have weak script or poor line delivery.
Overall, delivering a compelling story with solid moments of drama and positive, hard-hitting themes, The Old Oak is a slow-burning film. The slow burn is strongly noticeable in the second act, but thankfully, there’s a firm conclusion. For the most part, performances are above fine, with only a few questionable side characters. It’s saddening to say out loud that this is the final film from Director Ken Loach, and while he may not be ending his film journey with a loud bang, it’s still a fine film to add to his outstanding lineup of unforgettable titles.