Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Harry Brown

Directed by Daniel Barber.
2009. Rated R, 103 minutes.
Michael Caine
Emily Mortimer
Charlie Creed-Miles
David Bradley
Ben Drew
Sean Harris
Iain Glen
Jack O’Connell

Harry Brown (Caine) is having a tough go of it. He spends his days at the side of his long-time wife’s hospital bed. She doesn’t even know he’s there. At night, he medicates himself with a few beers and a game of chess with Leonard (Bradley). Though Leonard is his only friend, it’s not the greatest company. Leonard spends most of their time together complaining about the young thugs that have overrun his neighborhood and his run-ins with them.

Shortly, Harry’s wife passes away and Leonard goes and gets himself killed. Harry copes by really getting sloshed. On the way home from the pub, Harry walks everywhere by the way, one of the hooligans Harry thinks was involved in Leonard’s murder tries to mug him at knife point. This apparently re-ignites whatever it is in Harry’s past he refuses to speak of on several occasions. Harry going vigilante ensues.

Obviously, two questions arise. First, will Harry be able to wipe out all the riff-raff in the hood? Second, will he be caught? Well, since the movie holds no real surprises in that area, the question then becomes how does the movie go about its business? The answer to that begins with the star, Michael Caine.

Caine has long been a brilliant actor. He doesn’t disappoint, here. His Harry is a weary old man with a dark past whose world is crumbling around him. On top of everything else gone wrong in his life, he has to take the long way around in his travels to avoid the knuckleheads. That’s how the role is written. The magic of Michael Caine is he makes us feel it. He’s perfect, as usual.

HB is also graphically violent, and for a short time sexually also, in a good way. It creates a hyper-realistic world that doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to depicting who these people are. Neatly, it turns the trick of not having any of these moments fell like they’re just for effect. Of course, this brilliantly gives it an unsettling effect.

There are issues, though. First, and foremost, it’s formulaic. As I wrote earlier, there are no real surprises except for one out of left-field character development. The only big difference between this and any other vigilante movie is the age of our hero. That would be enough if it explored that angle better. Instead of us getting to know more about the mysterious old chap, particularly about his time in the Marines and how that has affected him, which it obviously has, his age is merely a plot device that plays into the action. It works for that purpose but isn’t as satisfying a factor as it should be. This plagues the entire movie. Things are brought up as if their depths are about to be plumbed, yet time and again the movie is content to skim the surface.

Overall, it’s a solid watch that Michael Caine makes better than it has any right to be. He’s worth the price of admission because he is so undeniably believable. He alone, is not enough to make HB anything more than decent. That’s because you’ve seen this movie before. Think of it as Death Wish for senior citizens.

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