– Summary –
Director : Daniel Barber
Year Of Release : 2009
Principal Cast : Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, David Bradley, Charlie Creed-Miles, Ben Drew, Iain Glen, Jack O’Connell.
Approx Running Time : 103 Minutes
Synopsis: Pensioner Harry Brown lives in a run-down housing estate in England, an estate gradually being overrun by crime, drugs and guns. After his best friend is brutally murdered, Harry takes matters into his own hands, fighting back against the criminals in the only way he knows how.
What we think : Absorbing, steady revenge thriller is almost undone by a glacial pace, but rewards viewers with a giant “hell yeah” when Harry starts his revenge. I hesitate to say this film is truly great, but it attempts to be. It’s slow, sure, and there’s giant minutes of buildup and tension leading to brutal, bloody violence, but the film avoids cliche by remaining truthful and respectful to the reality it presents us with. Michael Caine proves that he’s always had it, and still has it.
Everybody loves a good revenge flick, don’t they? Something about the Bad Guy getting his comeuppance against some sort of abhorrent crime or evil, makes audiences inwardly punch the air with glee. We all love to see the bad guys get their just deserts. Recent films, like Liam Neeson’s Taken, have given us the kind of roughed-up revenge thriller we’ve not witnessed since the 80’s, and while Harry Brown is a different beast entirely, it’s still just as impactful. Living in a run-down, crime-ridden housing tenement, Harry Brown (Michael Caine) sees the gradual striping away of human decency thanks to a proliferation of weapons and drugs. Gangs of youths, ruling their territory around the slums, kill and maim innocent people with abandon, with the police seemingly unwilling to become a presence to reduce the problems. Harry’s good friend, Leonard (David Bradley), also seeing the problems the estate is undergoing, and living in fear or gang-related violence, attempts to confront the gangs using an old bayonet, only to be brutally slain by several of the gang. With his limit officially pushed, Harry decides to take matters into his own hands, using his former Royal Marine training to take the fight into the world of the gangs themselves. London DI Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer) and her partner Hicock (Charlie Creed-Miles) follow the clues to uncover who killed Leonard, which leads them to cross paths with Harry, and into the center of the violence as well.
Harry Brown as a film is definitely hard edged, although it doesn’t feel like it for the majority of the running time. Opening with a callous and ferocious gun attack on a woman walking her kids, as well as Harry himself taking on several drug dealers, seedy types and other criminal behavior, and concluding with a brutal, last-gasp finale, Harry Brown could be marketed as some all-out action thriller. It isn’t. It is, but it isn’t. This isn’t a film filled with action, car chases and shoot-outs. This is an older man taking the law into his own hands (rightly or wrongly) as he sees it, and the film feels like a waiting game. British director Daniel Barber, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2008 for his short film The Tonto Woman, brings a gravitas and meandering style to this film, punctuated with brief, bloody interludes of violence. The pacing is, as I mentioned in the preamble above, almost glacial, and casual viewers may very well turn this film off after twenty minutes or so when nothing much happens, but more cerebral viewers will be rewarded for their patience and persistence. Barber allows his cast, specifically Michael Caine, to inhabit their characters with ease, although I tend to believe that Emily Mortimer was grossly miscast as the DI in charge of Leonard’s murder. Her performance, by comparison with the rest of the cast, is the weakest of the lot. That said, Caine effortlessly swings between frail old man and steel-willed ex-soldier with the wild-eyed look he’s been famous for in the past. Caine plays hard-ass so well it seems as if it’s second nature to him. Here, as the title character, he brings the violence and brutality of his characters’ past into the present with an attitude of “I’ve had enough”. Harry Brown is a riveting revenge thriller in a vein I’ve long since given up seeing in light of Hollywood’s penchant for gratuitous violence and torture-porn, and for those seeking a little more intellect with your vengeance, I can recommend Harry Brown as a potential winner. Worth it for Caine’s performance alone.