Thursday, 22 January 2015

Harry Brown (2009)

Harry Brown is a 2009 British vigilante thriller film directed by Daniel Barber and starring Michael Caine in the titular role of Brown, a widowed Royal Marines veteran living on a dilapidated London housing estate that is rapidly descending into youth crime including drug dealing and murder. When Harry's old friend and neighbour Len is killed by the young gangsters who stalk the walkways and subways of the estate (headed up by rap and soul star turned actor Ben Drew aka Plan B; much better as a villain here than he was as a hero in the updated version of The Sweeney, which I also rewatched at the weekend, and an early appearance from Jack O'Connell to name but two) Harry decides enough is enough and putting his former military training and ruthless skills to the test, begins to fight fire with fire.

This was something like my third watch of this film and sadly, each time I watch it, I come away a little less enamoured with it. 

Whilst it's a great showcase for my favourite movie star, Michael Caine, in the latter stage of his career ("You've failed to maintain your weapon, son" will go down in history as being as eminently quotable as his lines in Get Carter or The Italian Job) it is also regrettably a tremendous example of cinematic Viagra for Daily Mail readers; depressingly depicting as it does the notion that all council estate youths are murderous drug dealing/taking scum. Part of me can accept that the criminal activities and vile attitudes the young characters indulge in isn't particularly far fetched (you only need to read crime reports or have actually worked with offenders - as I have - to know this is well within the realms of possibility, alas) but equally I know it's not the norm either and its frustrating that the film refuses to show any young character in a good and positive light. Surely in reality there would be young people living just as fearfully on that estate as Harry and his poor tortured and slain friend, Len? The film makes one concession to this in the pre-credits sequence, which shows a pram pushing young mother being shot dead in front of her baby by two youths who find it hilarious but, as this horrific action isn't alluded to throughout the rest of the film one can only view it as the sensationalism it clearly is, rather than an attempt to show the terrorism of a wide range of naighbours, both young and old.  

On the plus side, what Harry Brown does at least acknowledge is the rather foolish underestimation the modern generation has towards pensioners who have survived, endured and seen the horrors of WWII and their National Service, but ultimately if you take away the vigilante wish fulfillment, this a flawed, underdeveloped film which seems to hint at a bigger role/backstory for Emily Mortimer's police officer but squanders her completely in the most frustrating and baffling manner - for example, why did she specifically ask for that district? Why was she teary eyed breaking the news of Len's death to Harry?

If it were anyone else other than Caine I'd write this off completely, as it is, it's an interesting near miss.

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