Harry Brown Review

Posted: December 11, 2009 in Review
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Harry Brown Review

‘In Northern Ireland they were fighting for a cause. For them, this is just… entertainment.’

Harry Brown is a man who knows the difference between violence and anarchy and he is going to ensure that every single person who watches this compelling British thriller understands that too. Don’t be confused by the appearance of the lovable Michael Caine: this film is a horrible beauty, a deadly rose – wonderful to look at but poisonous to the touch.

Aging former Marine Harry Brown (Caine) knows his time is running out. He’s slowly pissing away his remaining days trapped on a horrible council estate, visiting his dying wife in the hospital and playing chess at the pub with Leonard (David Bradley). Unfortunately, the violent thugs that rule the estate see to it that the few remaining things he loves come to a brief and bloody end, and once you back an animal into a corner, expect to get bitten.

Caine’s performance is as legendary as you expect. At once human, believable, sympathetic, deranged and hard as nails, he’s someone you can root for, but you’ll feel terrible about wanting him to murder his way across a chav’s wet dream. If he wasn’t so easy to support, this would be the Daily Mail’s idea of cinema heaven.

The other actors in the film are equally excellent. Emily Mortimer’s Detective Inspector Frampton is an excellent bleeding heart, a woman of logic and passion in a world of irrationality and hatred. Iain Glen’s Superintendent Childs is slightly underused – seemingly representing the smug, preening face of a system that simply isn’t working and won’t admit it, but not quite coming across in the limit screen time given. Ten points to brilliantly hateful (and hate-filled) Ben Drew as masterful villain Noel Winters, a pawn who believes himself to be a king.

Writer Gary Young has done a remarkable job with each of the characters. While Harry is distinctive and likable, his villains are truly remarkable, arrogant, cocky, loathsome, detestable, yet equally damaged and broken, each with their own unique issue that’s made them the way they are. He doesn’t ask you to feel bad for them, only to understand their situation and appreciate what has pushed them down this path.

It’s a film so realistic it might have been directed by Ken Loach, instead of first-time feature helmer Daniel Barber. The estate is so familiar, so alien, so infested with problems that it could be a documentary. The film presents compelling evidence for the reasons society is crumbling as easily as it and delights in never pointing the fingers at individuals, instead letting the blame fall equally across all people.

The kids on the estate are just as much victims as Harry Brown – bored, useless, uneducated, trapped, full of hate and with nothing to do with all that pent-up aggression save ride motorbikes in parks and shoot at passers-by. You’ll hate them as easily as you do in real life, but you’ll at least get a small insight into the reasons behind this. Without motivation to do anything constructive, without guidance, without love or any real friendship, the only thing left to do is work for the equally vile adults that created the situation as a means to make a quick buck.

If there is a criticism that can be levelled at the film, it’s that the excellent build up and the social commentary feel too much like they are just fodder for the (admittedly good, if simple) story. At one point it seems like the film is about to stop informing you how the circumstances for these broken characters came about and instead will preach about how we, as a community, can heal our shattered souls. Instead it simply travels down the conventional route of all revenge thrillers: murder everyone. There is no hope. The system doesn’t work and the only way to fix our problems is to kill them off the face of the earth. That said, it is admirable how the film never manages to lunge in the ludicrous – even when it seems that it could turn into a Van Damme ‘man against the mob’ movie, it resists temptation. At its heart, this is a very personal, very English, story of vendetta and hatred, of a man with nothing to do with his life returning to the one skill he locked away in a box under his bed. By the end you’ll be asking which is worse: the thugs for their empty lives full of hate, Harry Brown for his remorseless vengeance, or yourself for so desperately wanting his revenge to be carried out.

It’s a powerful, compelling human drama; easily worthy of comparison to Caine’s other peerless revenge thriller Get Carter, but be warned – it will leave a very sour taste in the mouth.

4 stars

  1. Alex says:

    Great review mate!

  2. Lizzie says:

    good review. Harry Brown is truly a film that makes u question things.

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