Starring: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Iain Glen, Liam Cunningham, Ben Drew, David Bradley
Director: Daniel Barber
Writer: Gary Young
Cinematography: Martin Ruhe
Original Score: Ruth Barrett, Martin Phipps
Running Time: 103 Mins.
The Punisher, Death Sentence, The Last House on the Left (2009), The Brave One, and the upcoming Law Abiding Citizen, all films of varying quality but with one thing in common, they are quintessentially films that would fall under the banner of vigilante, it would be quite easy to pool Harry Brown with these, after all it concerns one man’s revenge mission against those that brutally murdered his best friend, but two things raise Harry Brown’s game above all the aforementioned, firstly (and most obviously) Michael Caine and secondly the lensing of first time director Daniel Barber.
Opening with a startling phone-shot segment showing the initiation of a young teen into a gang of “hoodies”, it culminates in one of the most shocking scenes you will likely see all year, marked out by its likeness to many of the gun crime events we all too often hear about on the news, but never really get a true sense of in terms of the cruel callousness of them. This sets Harry Brown’s stall early, it is not a film for the faint of heart or those adverse to the brutalities of “real life”, forget the unconvincing violence of Saw and its brethren, this is how it is for many living in these conditions.
The stamp of a quality Caine performance usually pervades through even the worst kind of tosh, given he chooses to quite openly star in anything that lands on his desk in order to pay the bills, but when he gets a script this meaty (which along with Is Anybody There? has provided him with an excellent year) there is a every chance that Oscar glory should, and could, beckon. Starting as a broken widower he makes the transition to what is effectively an avenging angel, when the largely useless police fail to act and help his old friend Len (David Bradley).
Spending time spying on the gang of drug dealers, pimps and thugs provides Brown with the opportunity to take them down one by one, if it all sounds rather Death Wish like, it isn’t, Brown is much more human than any of the vigilante’s we have seen on-screen lately (he IS a pensioner after all!) and there is a sense of regret in the action he is having to take. Action’s which culminate a little to close to home. The build up of tension is often unbearable, helped along by a great score from Barrett and Phipps, with a scene in a crack den being the pinnacle of this, as Brown lets his ex-SAS soldier side out of the closet, so to speak.
Like this years Fish Tank the portrayal of the all too stereotypical council suburb is used to great effect, Barber is quoted as saying he sees Harry Brown as a modern western and on that could he has succeeded, melding the sensibilities of the western with a gritty all to uncomfortably real world that we live in now. With some stunning shots and the ability to keep a great pace I would expect if he continues at this level we have the next Shane Meadows in our grasp, high praise indeed for a first timer!
If there is a fault to be found it is in the lack of characterisation in the support, Emily Mortimer’s police Inspector is far too meek and withering to come across as real and Iain Glen as her superior is a cardboard cut-out ignorant police chief, while the various lowlife’s Caine visit’s his revenge on have no redeeming features what-so-ever, meaning the film’s final message, that these gangs are how they are for fun with no cause (unlike, say, the IRA), does hit but you can’t help feeling that it does dehumanize those who are clearly not quite that two-dimensional.
Harry Brown is a brutal and brutally realistic account of the gang-culture we are in the grip of, not easy watching for sure, but between Caine’s impeccable acting and the stunning direction of Barber this is a visceral treat not to be missed.