Sorry We Missed You is a working class drama that begins with the lie of freedom. Ricky Tucker (Kris Hitchen) sits across a desk, getting interviewed by Maloney (Ross Brewster), the man who runs a depot where the packages and parcels of Newcastle, UK are sorted and dispersed among delivery drivers. The drivers fill their white vans – the same size and pallor you see in America – and rush out to empty their cargo during a typical 14-hour day. Ricky used to be in construction, but his job vanished after the 2008 financial crash. Since then he has helped keep his family afloat through odd jobs and unskilled labor. All he wants is the opportunity to be his own man, which makes him the perfect mark for the deal Maloney has to offer.

Written by Paul Laverty and directed by Ken Loach, this is one of the few great movies to examine having a third world existence in a first world country. Maloney explains to Ricky that he will never be an employee, but a franchisee of the depot. He can either buy his own van and go further into debt or rent one from the depot for exorbitant rates. Ricky is responsible for all repairs and maintenance on his vehicle and is expected to be the first driver in and the last to leave since he is new. His parcels are insured by the company, but he and his van are not. At one point, Ricky brings his brilliant, young daughter, Liza Jae (Katie Proctor), along for the day, but gets admonished by Maloney because a customer complains about the girl. So, Ricky is promised the freedom of self-employment while being beholden to Mahoney and his depot.

To accrue some starting capital for this endeavor, Ricky decides to sell his wife’s car. Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), is a caregiver tasked with waking, cleaning, feeding and tucking in a roster of elderly and disabled clients. She is also an independent contractor who is paid a flat rate for the home visits she makes instead of an hourly wage that would include commuting. She is compensated minimally for emotionally and physically demanding work, and her boundless capacity for empathy is seeing limits. It doesn’t help that their teenage son, Seb (Rhys Stone), has had the profound realization that the world is stacked against him. The future looks bleak for the lower class and he has decided not to play along, finding outlets in his friends and graffiti. Like his sister, he exudes intelligence, but no longer cares to participate in school. Neither parent can afford to take time off work to see to Seb or Lisa Jae’s emotional needs. Their indentured servitude is implicit and their devotion to their labors expected. It is a completely dehumanizing economic system that we tolerate. The unintended irony is that people like Ricky and Abbie are the ones we call “heroes” now. They are designated as essential yet receive not better compensation.

This dehumanization is one of capitalism’s main features. Laverty and Loach employ no subtlety in damning the system and who it excludes from prosperity. They juxtapose two monologues on the topic of what is important in life to further drive their points. One is about the importance of family as our lone touchstone, delivered by a police officer (Stephen Clegg) who catches Seb shoplifting. The second should be dubbed “The Patron Saint of Bastards” speech and it belongs to Mahoney. It rivals Alec Baldwin’s famous “ABC” speech from Glengarry Glen Ross in terms of explications of horrible business philosophies. In the latter it was the leads that were more important than the man. For Maloney, it’s the scanner all drivers carry. The machine monitors the packages and the drivers, accruing statistics and recording behaviors. Keeping the machine happy is all Maloney cares about and he will suck the life out of all his franchisees to maintain his number one position in the company.

This film is a tragedy akin to Death of a Salesman, but it lacks so much artifice and nostalgia for a better world from long ago. If anything, it quietly acknowledges the beginning of the end of British labor protections after the miner’s strikes of 1985. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher shared the same religiosity toward free market capitalism as Ronald Reagan, and the pair were perfect partners to commence the 40-year project of dismantling government and labor protections. One of Abbie’s charges shares photos of herself helping to feed the striking miners. Such solidarity is a dying memory now.

Many of us have relatives who toil in the gig economy and worry about their future. Loach and Laverty have made a testament to our loved ones and the lies we are condoning every time we summon an Uber or order from Amazon. When the film competed for the Palme d’Or last year it was on the merits of its societal critiques as well as outdated notions of manhood that make some people susceptible to franchise schemes. Today it is a totem of the world that just halted, and it should force us to further question if that is the world we want to return to.

Screen it at this virtual theater!

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