Saturday, 11 June 2011

Harry Brown

Harry Brown (Michael Caine) is a pensioner living alone in a block of flats in a very rough neighbourhood of London. The area is a honey pot for all the worst of British youth anti-social behaviour: knives, guns, beatings, muggings, drugs, sex and rock’n’roll. In short; the stereotypical image of hoodie-gangs hanging out on street corners. Harry’s wife Kath is in hospital with cancer. When he gets a call in the middle of the night from the hospital he rushes out into the pouring rain, but never-the-less walks the long way round to avoid the gang hanging out in the underpass. The heartbreaking consequence of this is that Harry misses his wife’s final moments, and her hospital bed is already empty by the time he arrives. When his friend Len (David Bradley) is murdered by the gang, Harry has had enough, his old Marine training kicks in, and he becomes a vigilante. And so the revenge begins...

This was another title on our Love Film list; a recommendation from a friend, I hadn’t a clue about the film. I only realised The Caine was in it when I checked IMDb to find out the running time! I’ve talked before about how this is perhaps the best way to see films, as you have no biased opinions, no matter how small, about actors/directors/genre etc. In the case of Harry Brown this lack of information may account for why I couldn’t shake the feeling of the film all day after watching it. The portrayal of inner city London council blocks is really grim. You really wonder why anyone would choose to live in a place like that; then of course it strikes the viewer that when Harry and Len first moved there it was probably a great place to live: a new development, perhaps the future of living in London. Following on from this you empathise with Harry and feel his bitter disappointment at how the neighbourhood has degenerated; and finally understand that for some people, perhaps especially the elderly, there is no way out from these “slums”: no family, no social support system, no finances to speak of plus a dogged determination not to be run out of their own homes by the youth of today (think Gran Torino meets Attack the Block).

So having painted a really bleak picture of inner city life, I will now tell you how cool “The Caine” is! As a world-weary pensioner who has been dealt quite a poor hand in life (daughter died young of pneumonia, wife just died of cancer) he is perfect (Charlie Croker this is not!). When he goes all vigilante, outwardly he is barely different, but as soon as the marine training kicks in he is ruthless (think Get Carter, but he could give Luca Brasi a run for his money!). There is a great scene when he is trying to buy a gun from two guys (notorious drugs and arms dealers); he plays the whole scene as an old man, completely out of his depth; which makes what happens at the end of the scene so completely unexpected. David Bradley plays Argus Filch Len well, but there isn’t quite so much of his character in the film, so we don’t find out too much about him. Emily Mortimer is good as Detective Inspector Alice Frampton, the police officer who asks to be transferred to this area. She figures out that Harry is the vigilante, despite her colleagues thinking otherwise, but by the end finds herself in way over her head.

As Daniel Barber’s first full-length film Harry Brown is very impressive. A top-notch actor such as Michael Caine in the lead role is a real coup. Barber also creates great tension, and I certainly didn’t know what to expect next; particularly in the scene I alluded to earlier. I’ve already talked about the “slum” atmosphere surrounding the block of flats, and at the climax of the film this atmosphere is truly intimidating and terrifying. A very good film, well written, great acting, and very well crafted; not so much a feel-good film though!