Doesn’t matter in real life or in the movies, when you’re informed on your first day of work that you’re going to be the “master of your own destiny,” you’re better off quitting on the spot. So it is in Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, when the straw boss of the delivery company greets Ricky Turner (Kris Hitchen), his new “owner-driver franchisee” — read: non-employee, no-benefits independent contractor — with those words. Right away the ceiling begins to fall in.
Ricky gets docked for things like taking two hours off to tend to his son’s problems at school. Letting his daughter ride along to help him draws a reprimand. Ricky can’t spare a minute – he’s advised to pack an empty bottle to pee in. Obstacles and penalties accumulate. Ricky and his work mates are ruled by smart phones and hand-held terminals. When he gets robbed on the job, he ends up owing the company for the goods stolen and his destroyed scanner, plus an extra fee. Ricky’s wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) reluctantly agrees to sell her car in order to buy the van for Ricky, seriously compromising her job as a home care provider. On top of all that, both kids take out their frustrations on their parents. We start to wonder if Ricky will crack.
Director Loach, here collaborating with long-time writing partner Paul Laverty, is unique in the English-language cinema for his socially conscious dramas, from Kes to Riff-Raff to The Wind That Shakes the Barley. The hectic story of a man from Newcastle Upon Tyne, U.K. being stretched on a rack by the only job he can find is only the latest Loach portrait of the plight of ordinary people trying to live their lives in an economic system that places profit ahead of human health and safety. The performances are as strong as the message: Something’s got to change.