Director: Daniel Barber
Cast: Michael Caine, David Bradley, Emily Mortimer
Beware old men with guns. That’s what you might expect to take away from a film about a pensioner dispensing justice upon the youth of today. But no, Harry Brown (Caine) isn’t the enemy. He’s Michael Caine. The villains are the hoodies, with their knives and drugs. All Harry’s doing is setting the score straight. Michael Caine with a gun? How could that possibly be a bad thing?
When Harry’s friend and erstwhile chess partner Leonard (Bradley) gets beaten to death by street-dwelling chavs, he decides to get armed and even. After all, the police aren’t doing anything. So Harry sets about his vigilante campaign, hunting down gang members with ruthless precision.
Dead dealers turn up in burning buildings, but the cops don’t twig it’s the bereaved pensioner who’s offing them all. Except for DI Frampton (Mortimer). Giving Harry half-smiles and meaningful looks, she’s the good cop in all this. You can tell because whenever she walks into a room her lips start to quiver.
But who can blame her in the face of such brutality? Surrounded by wayward kids with no future, Daniel Barber’s London is as dark as Gavin Young's script. Shot beautifully by Control’s cinematographer Martin Ruhe, it’s a grimy world of inky blacks and shadowed side alleys; an exhilarating look for the usually chocolate-boxed capital.
The story itself, though, is one we’ve seen often before – once very recently too. An old man fighting for fairness in a tough neighbourhood? It’s been pegged by many as the British Gran Torino. But this is closer to Get Carter than Clint’s sentimental serenade. There are moments of emotion – expertly acted by Caine, of course – but there’s no real heart to the piece. This is a revenge flick pure and simple.
Shooting up the scum of the earth, there’s no variation in the portrayal of the punks. They’re all clearly evil. Screaming “broken Britain” like a Daily Mail headline, Harry Brown reads like Jeremy Kyle’s first screenplay. It channels fear of juveniles well enough, but does little else with its theme. There’s no moral or political compass here. Just violence.
But what can you expect from such a familiar formula? He’s a harmless senior citizen, who just happens to be a former Marine. They’re always former Marines. Shambling through their lonely existence, they sit in empty flats, eating their cereal. Then one day, something snaps, and in kicks their training. One day, there’ll be a film about a happily married Vietnam veteran whose Rice Krispies pop too loudly, causing him to kill his family with a bagel and an egg whisk. That would be a new take on the tale.
It’s all thanks to Michael Caine that the exploitative carnage is so captivating. Filling the screen with the minutest of movements, Caine’s performance is as powerful as ever. “You forgot to keep your weapon maintained, son!” he snarls, before blowing a boy’s brains out. It’s hard not to root for that kind of charisma.
Dirty and dour, this is dubious stuff. But at the end of the day, it’s Michael Caine with a gun. And that’s never a bad thing.
- broken britain
- david bradley
- emily mortimer
- get carter
- gran torino
- harry brown
- michael caine