Harry Brown (18)

Harry Brown has certainly received a lot of hype with some calling it the British Gran Torino – very high praise indeed. It promised a grim and bitter plot as well as the chance to see Jack Carter shoot hoodies! On the most part Harry Brown delivers, it is a thoroughly tense and action-packed tale which is nothing short of exhausting to watch as Caine’s wheezing pensioner goes super-vigilante on the local hoodlums! Sadly though, despite being pretty entertaining it lacks real bite and falls flat in some crucial areas. Harry Brown seems to dodge the usual psychological arena of the revenge thriller and skips to the bit where Michael Caine kicks some ass, sorry ‘arse’, in Dirty Harry-like fashion. On the one hand it attempts to tackle the very real subject of inner-city crime but on the other it is set in a completely sensationalised and almost fantasy-like world. As a result Harry Brown is an intriguing film with very questionable morals and one that certainly shatters the senses.

Michael Caine is Harry Brown, an ex-marine who is living alone in a rough London housing estate. His days are spent in the pub with his mate Len (David Bradley) and regular visits to the hospital to see his gravely ill wife. Harry’s life soon becomes unbearable as he loses his wife and Len is killed by a local gang. Harry sees the plight of the people around him due to the gangs and Len’s death tips him over the edge. Armed with his smarts and marine experience he begins a deadly chess game with the bigwigs behind the local area’s drug and violent crimes.

The film is really all about Michael Caine so there is a major lack of imagination with the rest of the characters but generally the performances stand up okay. Michael Caine’s performance is flawless; he captures the vulnerabilities of Harry Brown’s elderly character and definitely captures the audiences’ sympathy. He also provides the character with a lot of menace and determination when Harry starts his rampage on the streets. The idea of an elderly man riddling holes into local drug dealers is a rather bizarre one but oddly one that Caine thrives in. He dominates the screen completely and the other characters are unquestionably eclipsed by his presence. Generally the police characters are deliberately a little one-dimensional and despite being the only police officer with brains, Emily Mortimer’s strong headed character is particularly lifeless as is Ian Glen’s superintendant. Robert Cunningham makes brief appearances which are good and make him the only other really mentionable character. The gang members are very typically evil and show no resemblance to human beings at all – their vile attitudes and lack of development almost serve as justification for Harry’s actions. The one-dimensional treatment of the other characters is very obvious but it allows Caine to steal centre stage and deliver a powerful performance.

Speaking of one-dimensional development, I found the approach to the film was very black and white. Essentially the message it is sending is to shoot all the hoodies and everything will be fine. It’s all very straight forward; none of the gang members show any kind of remorse or feeling towards their actions and laugh in the face of authority. The police are shown as very naive and blasé about the potential dangers of the gangs. As a result Harry is given complete justification to go trigger happy on any drug dealer or mugger he finds. It is a dedication to the old school revenge film ethos that every problem can be solved with guns and more guns.

The action is fast and shocking in places which makes for tense viewing but an entertaining ride. The scene in the cannabis factory is terrifying at first with Caine’s seemingly harmless elderly gentleman surrounded in the surreal and disturbing world of two repulsive drug and arms dealers. Harry Brown also looks the part as it effectively captures the feel of the grim asphalt jungle Harry lives in which plays a big part in attaining the electric atmosphere in the film. Despite a lacklustre ending the plot is sound and keeps you hooked to the final scene, just to see if Harry’s one man army can conquer the might of organised crime in London.

Harry Brown is essentially Gran Torino’s grittier cousin and is a more extreme take on the revenge thriller which does not disappoint in terms of the thrills and drama. However it sticks a little too faithfully to the philosophy of ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ that results in a lack of substance overall. Certainly not one for the faint hearted but it is overall a good film which packs a lot of punch so I would definitely recommend it.

Dave

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