Harry Brown (Michael Caine) lives in a bad neighborhood in South London; he lives in a housing estate, which is the British version of a low-income housing development. There is a lot of graffiti, youth gangs openly deal drugs and regularly assault people without provocation. It's a generally scummy place. Harry visits his comatose wife in the hospital daily, and then goes to the pub to have a few pints with his best friend, Leonard (David Bradley), over some chess. Even there, though, social decay can be seen; the pub's owner, Sid (Liam Cunningham), gets kickbacks from drug dealers/stolen merchandise vendors. To be honest, it's not a particularly sunny look on old age.
|If time flies when you're having fun, I bet the clock hasn't moved in years.|
|You can't to the "That's not a knife..." bit if the other guy is senile|
|He may look grandfatherly, but he's not here to tuck you in|
While I wouldn't say that the acting in Harry Brown is fantastic, there were no bad performances in the bunch. Michael Caine can be awfully hit-and-miss due to his mercenary attitude toward taking roles, but he's good here. His portrayal of Harry is a depressing one, and he is fueled less by rage and revenge (as is common in this type of film) and more by despair. His gang member counterpart is played by Ben Drew, AKA British musician Plan B. I thought he was pretty good as a thuggish nogoodnik, although his character wasn't particularly complex. Emily Mortimer was fine as the only cop that actually figures out what is happening in the film, and she has more than her share of good small moments. Her character's motivations seemed to be more than just doing her job, but no insight was ever really given to her character; I think that was a missed opportunity. This was the first time I had ever seen David Bradley outside of a Harry Potter film, and he was okay in his small part. The only other actor that stood out to me was Iain Glen as an insincere and mildly incompetent superior police officer. There were a number of small character roles for street thugs, but none of them were terribly developed.
|Kids, don't do drugs|
Harry Brown is Daniel Barber's first feature film, although it is worth noting that he received an Oscar nomination for his only other credit, a short film. Barber did a good job with the cast, getting realistic performances out of a story that could have occasionally been over the top. I liked the action in the film --- it looked good and painful, and none of the characters appeared to be accomplishing anything unrealistic. I was surprised that my biggest take-away from the film did not involve Michael Caine's performance. Instead, I was impressed by how frightening the youth gang members were. The opening scenes, featuring a gang initiation and some random violence set the tone for the movie.
The only real problem I have with Harry Brown is that it is retreading familiar ground. The obvious comparison is to Death Wish (the first one, not the ridiculous sequels), where a good man takes steps to fix what the law cannot (or will not) fix. Harry Brown isn't as focused on its action sequences or the brutality of the hero (as in Man on Fire, Taken, Law Abiding Citizen, or Edge of Darkness). Instead it focuses on the despair of the main character, kind of like Death Sentence. Of course, this movie also features an elderly man killing a number of younger men on his path to vengeance, which is awfully similar to The Limey.
|I've seen this scene before. I bet the sleazy arms-n-drug dealer lives.|
When I discovered that the main thug in the movie was a British pop star, I checked his credits and found a music video from the Harry Brown soundtrack. This is Chase & Status ft. Plan B - End Credits. It's not my cup of tea, but it is very British.