Harry Brown
Forced perspective can be a hilarious thing.

Theatrical Release Date: 05/21/2010
Director: Daniel Barber
Cast: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Charlie Creed-Miles, Ben Drew, David Bradley, Sean Harris, Liam Cunningham, Jack O’Connell, Iain Glen
Rated: R for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and sexual content.
Runtime: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Golden Mug2010 Golden Mug

Best Actor (Michael Caine)


Look out! Alfred’s got a gun!

Let’s mitigate all the comparisons between Michael Caine’s latest film “Harry Brown” and Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish” series. Yes, both involve individuals committing vigilante justice in order to stick it to the bad guys but that’s about where the similarities end.

You see, whereas “Death Wish” was predicated on simply showcasing revenge and violence for their own sakes, “Harry Brown” layers the character and message of the film to be about something far greater than kicking ass because you can.

Caine plays the title character, an ex-Marine who fought in Northern Ireland and loses his wife and best/only friend (David Bradley) early in the film – one to natural causes and the other to local drug dealers and ne’er do wells. He doesn’t want to escalate the violence, he simply wants to live out his life and leave all of the haunting memories of his time in the service in the past. Of course, the events that transpire around him won’t let that happen.

The beautiful thing about the film is the careful time and development regarding this transformation of Harry Brown. Caine delivers a solid performance, building his character’s tolerance for the lawlessness in the estates (we call them projects in America). And for those of you who enjoy a spot of violence, that’s on display here: however, it’s all of a calculated and necessary variety.

Brown is intent on getting justice for his friend when it appears the police are incapable of doing so – he isn’t interested in righting all of the wrongs of society (as exemplified by a great line regarding the Northern Irish fighting for a cause while the youth of today do so simply for entertainment). Along the way, people are stabbed and shot, all with a brutality more in keeping with realism rather than sensationalism – much like the film as a whole.

Crossing paths with Brown are some police officials (Emily Mortimer and Charlie Creed-Miles) investigating the death of his friend. And rather than simple stereotypes, the characters are saying something about society as a whole. Creed-Miles is the voice of a constabulary interested in doling out punishment while Mortimer is the flip side of Brown – a woman who wants justice but believes in constraining her actions to those allowable by law, so as not to become the very thing she is fighting against.

Playing the dregs of society are a collection of young actors (most prominently Ben Drew, Sean Harris and Jack O’Connell) who all bring that seedy element so easily despised by polite company. Here again, instead of being bad for bad’s sake, it’s easily inferred that the illegal and despicable acts are a byproduct of a system that has forgotten about these kids because of their socio-economic status. Sure, it’s still a matter of choosing right from wrong but it’s not a black and white issue and the film doesn’t treat it as such.

Director Daniel Barber and screenwriter Gary Young meticulously pace the film, allowing the characters to develop over the course of the story. They also do a nice job of portraying the violence, whether it’s a harrowing scene inside a drug den, a confrontation in a dark tunnel or a full blown riot as estate hooligans and the police face off near the end of the film. Each encounter holds real weight and as this isn’t the usual big budget project, the notion that no character is safe helps to maintain the tension.

Now, that’s not to say this film is perfect. Perhaps more of a personal pet peeve, the song that blares upon the rolling of the end credits is completely disjointed from the tone of the film and apparently only there because one of the actors (Drew) has a hip hop alter ego (Plan B). Also, the ending itself is like something test audiences would clamor for because they seemingly always go for resolutions that spell everything out and Barber would have been better off cutting the last two minutes off entirely.

However, the film still stands out as an excellent commentary on society and an intriguing character study of a good man pushed over the edge. A 4 out of 5, “Harry Brown” may be a bit too violent for those looking for straight drama and maybe a bit too much character development for those just wanting blood … but that’s yet another reason the film is well worth seeing as it may impart some wisdom to both sets and their own world view, at least cinematically speaking.

4 out of 5