Review: Harry Brown

Michael Caine stars as the title character, an aging pensioner and former Marine who lives in a London housing estate that is going to hell due to drug-dealing young thugs. His friend Len (David Bradley) has had enough and has resorted to carrying a weapon, something Harry warns him against. When Len is stabbed to death with his own weapon, Harry, whose wife has also recently died after a long illness, is distraught. The police, led by Emily Mortimer are unable to do anything because the youths will be seen as having acted in self-defence. Then one night on his way home from the pub, someone tries to rob Harry...and they’ll soon wish they hadn’t tried it. Perhaps ‘ol Harry (who put away his violent past and natural tendencies once he got married) has found a form of justice far more satisfactory to him than that which the law can provide. Ben Drew plays one of the main hoodie-wearing thugs, Iain Glen plays the police superintendent, Liam Cunningham is a local bartender in a role that seems suspiciously superfluous for such a recognisable face.

Vigilante movies, at least the ones that try to take the subject seriously, have never been my thing. I just don’t buy the situation, nor do I like the politics, nor find such things entertaining when the tone is so dour and serious. I watch them because I watch most things, and will give anything a chance, but I prefer the sillier, ‘non-think’ vigilante movies that have the decency to just be honest exploitation/action flicks. Clint Eastwood came closer than anyone to getting me on board with a serious one with “Gran Torino”, I’ll admit. It didn’t have the geriatric star acting like a superhero, and it had an ending that seemed to suggest that his character was a bit of a relic. It also had a sense of humour about it, which was much appreciated. This 2009 Daniel Barber (a debutante with a background in commercials) flick seems like the British equivalent of “Gran Torino”, but it is a much lesser film. It has none of the earlier film’s subtleties nor the humour.

Watching the film for the first time around the time of the 2011 London riots was an interesting experience because it allowed me to see that there was indeed some reality to the situation. It was awfully bloody prescient, I must say. However, that didn’t make the film remotely entertaining then nor re-watching it now in 2018, nor did it make up for the fact that Michael Caine was far too old-looking to be doing what he does in this film. Eastwood got away with it because he didn’t really end up doing a whole helluva lot, but Caine (whose rock-solid “Get Carter” was more a revenge film than vigilante flick) I just wasn’t buying. I’m glad that they gave the character a background and motives to try and make it credible, but Caine (whose performance is otherwise perfectly fine) just looks way too old. At least Eastwood, old as he may look, still seemed like a hardass who probably still keeps in shape. Caine just looks too ‘kindly old man’ for my liking. I know he has played ruthless characters before (“Get Carter”, “The Ipcress File”, not to mention countless villains), but he just doesn’t look credible anymore, at least not in these films. The funny thing is that these thugs are such puny, young twats that if someone a bit younger than Caine were cast, I could’ve bought it.

Meanwhile, instead of the humour and depth in the Eastwood film, we get “Death Wish”-style grit mixed with “On Golden Pond” geriatric sentiment, not an alternative that appealed to me. This is predictable, prosaic and painfully slow-moving. I’m certainly not a fan of vigilantism, but Caine takes forever to act in this, and since it’s the raison d’ĂȘtre, I wanted it to hurry the hell up. An hour in and he still hadn’t started getting medieval on their arses. That’s the problem with adding back-story and motivation to this sort of thing, it runs the risk of making the film slow and dull. It’s just so boring, dreary, unpleasant, and slow. No fun at all, with way too many scenes with Mortimer and Glen that play like a rough episode of “The Bill”. The thugs, meanwhile, have no discernible personality between them. I didn’t hate them so much as want to turn away in boredom. The scene with Caine and the druggies was meant to be tense, I simply found it repulsive, dull, and largely pointless. The screenplay is by Gary Young, who either needed to get to the damn point quicker or give us compelling characters to compensate. Instead we get a mopey old Michael Caine, some repulsive drug dealers, and a bunch of wet-mouthed, weaselly young punks. Oh goodie, that’s entertainment. Yawn.

Caine’s bloody good as usual, if not credible perhaps. The film isn’t abysmal, just painfully slow, a bit implausible, and really not my thing. Maybe your mileage will differ.

Rating: C-


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