Wednesday, 5 May 2010

HARRY BROWN

England 2009. Gangs of feral teens rule our streets, with guns, knives and alcohol-fueled acts of violence creating abject misery for those unlucky enough to merely breathe the same air.

Meet Harry Brown: ex Marine and old aged pensioner who visits his comatose wife in hospital, and enjoys a pint with close friend Leonard (David Bradley) just to remind himself he's still alive.
We're in the East End of London here, and it soon becomes apparent that the low life scum who see the area as their 'manor' are making life hell for the residents of a squalid council estate.

When Brown (beautifully played by Michael Caine) receives an urgent call summoning him to his wife's bedside, his decision not to take a shortcut through a nearby subway costs him the chance to bid his spouse one last goodbye.
Soon, Harry's life is blighted a second time and something inside him snaps, compelling him to wage a one-man war on the hoodlums who frequent the shadowy depths of the subway, and regularly invade the homes of frightened citizens.

HARRY BROWN has, inevitably, drawn comparison with Clint Eastwood's powerful GRAN TORINO and it's a worthwhile comparison with Eastwood's film more measured but not necessarily more passionate. Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER may also be a nostalgic line of reference; particularly the scene where Brown is shown an array of weapons during a tense encounter in a drug dealers den.
While some of the characters in this film are none too well drawn - particularly the forces of law & order - HARRY BROWN is ultimately a hard-hitting account of the way things are in a country crying out for a drastic change in the way we deal with what are quite simply monsters. Michael Caine excels as the OAP vigilante, inspiring a whole range of emotions and, I strongly suspect, a widespread fervent wish that more Harry Brown's would rise up and conduct a much-needed spring clean of our streets.
Yes, the violence is explicit at times and the language is way past industrial but there's a real humanity in evidence that is extremely moving.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review, Steve. It's playing here in Los Angeles, and I'm hoping to take this in (in between my attempts at dodging my children's homework and future high school meetings, that is). Thanks for this.

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  2. Nice review, Steve! I'm looking forward to this one, also but I'll probably have to wait 'till DVD to check it out.

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  3. Saw this one last week at an advance screening preceded by a great q & a with Sir Michael Caine. Needless to say, Caine's appearance was far more worthwhile than the film. Caine was excellent, but something was missing dramatically that needed to be there to bridge the before and after of his breaking point. His transformation into a vigilante just was not convincing as it played in the film. This film's contrivances stood out all the more because it wanted so much to be taken as the real deal. The villains were one-dimensional and forgettable, the police procedural stuff was extraneous and felt like it was out of a mediocre telefilm (poor Emily Mortimer is wasted), the climax rang false and, again, felt like bad tv.

    The scene with the drug / gun dealers was fun, but was wholly unconvincing and ridiculous in a film that wants us to believe that it's the "real deal"--a drug den with a veritable marijuana forest and overdosing underaged girl, climaxing with senior citizen Caine coming out blazing (of course, he was a war hero and killed people 50+ years before in N. Ireland). It was all so completely over-the-top and absurd that the police, no matter how inept they're supposed to be, wouldn't have stumbled upon it.

    I did like the atonal synthesizer sounds used for the soundtrack, which would not have sounded out of place in one of the countless '70s-'80s vigilante flicks, which this film alternately pays homage to / rips off. This is an exploitation film that wants to impart some important message when it should just do what it's supposed to do, which is show us young punks getting blasted by a pushed-to-the-limit old-timer.

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  4. Thanks, Michael. Hope time permits you get to see it.

    Thanks, JD. Hopefully, you'll get a DVD release very soon.

    Thank you, Ned. You have raised some excellent points. I brought into Brown's transformation, though I can well see why others didn't. For me, Leonard's murder was the final straw. After all, Brown had no children to help him or confide in and his friend was just about all he had left. When the gang took Leonard from him, something snapped so I went with it.
    Fully agree re Emily. To her credit, she did the best with what she had.
    For me, the drug den came over as a tense encounter. Yes, it was OTT but sufficiently edgy to work.
    Many thanks, Ned, for taking time to post your take on the film. Some excellent observations.

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