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Harry's a few shades darker than Brown...
Harry Brown (DVD)
Member Name: victoriahathaway
Harry Brown (DVD)
Date: 02/05/10, updated on 12/08/11 (138 review reads)
Advantages: Michael Caine and Ben Drew
Disadvantages: Morals? What morals?
The title character of Harry Brown is played by the wonderful Michael Caine. Harry's days run like clockwork - wake up, visit his ailing wife in hospital, play chess in the pub with best friend Len, return home. And, of course, avoid the youths who terrorize the estate on which he lives. Harry Brown seems to have taken much inspiration from the image the tabloids have painted of young people today - these kids are violent, angry, and utterly merciless. From the shocking opening scene portraying the casual shooting of a mother walking her child, we are coerced into recognising the events on screen, be it through the use of handheld cameras to promote realism, or the employment of the stereotypical 'chav' image. We watch as, on his way to the hospital, Harry considers cutting through an underpass to make his journey a little shorter, but upon hearing the jeers of youths, walks the long way round. These little touches that imply danger that may or may not be present are far more effective than the over the top assumptions that every young person on an estate is a drug lord, amateur porn maker and weapon retailer (yes, I AM describing one of Harry Brown's characters!).
Anyway, back to the premise. The basic story follows Harry, an elderly ex-marine whose wife dies early on in the film. Soon after, his best (and only) friend Len admits to Harry that the kids on the estate are harassing him, and shows him an old bayonet hidden in his jacket. Harry tries to convince Len to not do anything foolish, and Len leaves in torment, having thought Harry would understand his fears. Needless to say, the next day two police officers, Frampton (Emily Mortimer) and Hicock (Charlie Creed-Miles) visit Harry, informing him of Len's violent demise. Harry, now without friends or family, snaps, and his old marine training kicks in as he stalks the estate to take down Len's killers with some good old fashioned vigilante justice.
In his first feature length film, director Daniel Barber starts off very well, using lengthy, washed out shots to convey the dreary lives of those on the estate. Everything is murky, old and infused with a sense of unease - perpetually reminding us of the fear that Harry lives in. The look of the film could even be described as artistic in its opening act, but this sadly doesn't last. As soon as Harry decides to wreak vengeance on the youths, the slow, quiet nature of the film disintegrates, becoming far more conventional and mainstream in its construction.
The best thing about the film is Caine's performance. If ever you had doubted the mastery of Michael, those doubts will be put to rest here. Caine is superb in all aspects of his role - from frightened pensioner, to grieving husband and friend, to ruthless killer. The transition he makes, however, is badly handled and poorly written. The lack of morality in the youngsters is represented as cruel, unjustified and detestable, yet when Harry turns their weapons on them, we are expected to accept and commend his efforts. The film completely fails at serving as any kind of social commentary, as the youths are far too extreme to be believable, and Harry's response to their violence, through torture and savage murder, shows a lack of mercy and humanity that is equal to that of the youths themselves. Caine's previous interpretation of a lonely, grieving old man is thrown out the window to be replaced with an utterly different character, which in the end, causes this film to be completely without compassion.
What improves the film are the performances of its main characters. As already mentioned, Caine is first-rate, but the young people playing the abhorrent youths are also excellent in their roles. In particular is the character of Noel Winters, the 'boss' of the kids, who is played by Ben Drew, otherwise known as Plan B. He's offensive, terrifying and vicious, and despite his character being represented in the extreme, Drew brings a good sense of realism to the persona. There are only a couple of weak spots in the writing of the characters - specifically DI Frampton, who is significantly underdeveloped.
In short, this film could have been a lot better than it was, despite some excellent performances. It seems that it's a little unsure of whether to be an action film or an attempt at social commentary. It aims to please a general audience by pointing somewhere in the middle, leading to a dispassionate, extreme cinematic experience with a lack of humanity that can't be ignored.
Summary: Ever heard of 'two wrongs don't make a right?'