HARRY BROWN (2010)
Starring Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Charlie Creed-Miles, David Bradley, Iain Glen, Sean Harris, Ben Drew, Jack O’Connell, Jamal Downey, Lee Oakes, Joseph Gilgun, Liam Cunningham, Marva Alexander, Forbes KB and Liz Daniels.
Screenplay by Gary Young.
Directed by Daniel Barber.
Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films. 103 minutes. Rated R.
Michael Caine is one of the great actors of the last century. Harry Brown would make a wonderful crowning achievement in a long and distinguished career, though luckily it does not appear that at 77 years old that the actor is planning on retiring any time soon. In fact, Caine has been doing some of the most interesting and risky work in his career in recent years.
This film is being compared to a similar American story, Gran Torino – in which elderly tough guy Clint Eastwood plays an angry widower who takes on the tough kids that have overrun his once-quiet neighborhood.
There are definitely surface similarities in the movies – an aging acting legend plays a recent widower who uses his skills (Harry Brown is ex-military) to go to war with a group of violent young punks who are terrorizing his council estate (the UK equivalent of a housing project). In fact, the story line has deeper roots than this – both are variations of the old 70s Charles Bronson classic Death Wish.
However, as much as I liked Gran Torino, (and Death Wish, for that matter) I have to say that Harry Brown is definitely a better, deeper film.
Harry Brown does not romanticize its hero in the same way Gran Torino sometimes did. Harry knows he is in way over his head. He is terribly frightened and is often crippled (and thus put into great danger) by a serious emphysema condition. Unlike Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski, Harry Brown is not merely fueled by simmering anger – though he definitely is angry about the violent state of life in his slum London estate (ironically, the film was made quite near Caine’s boyhood home) – but also by desperation and a complete lack of anything left to lose.
This is because his wife dies early in the film. In fact, Brown misses being with her in the end because he is unable to use a walking tunnel to get to the hospital because the local toughs have taken it over to sell drugs and fight.
These same guys are making Harry’s best friend Len’s life miserable. When the kids stick a burning paper through Len’s mail slot and he just barely escapes smoke inhalation, the older man decides to confront the hoods – and is beaten to death.
Harry had been trying to ignore all of the chaos going on in his old neighborhood. (In an early scene he watches impotently out the window as some toughs break into a neighbor’s car and beat him and his girlfriend when they try to stop the crime.)
However when he finds that the police are well-meaning but essentially helpless, Brown finally realizes that he has to protect himself and perhaps save his area from crime. This leads to some horrifically tense situations in which Brown has only his guile to protect himself from the animal-like denizens of the local underbelly. Particularly harrowing is a scene in which Brown goes to buy a gun from a couple of local dealers only to find himself in a Stygian nightmare in their filthy flat.
The tension causes the neighborhood to combust, with the criminals, the police and Brown in a desperate battle for the soul of the area.
Harry Brown is certainly not an upbeat film, but it is a smart and impassioned call for action.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 30, 2010.