Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
There is a scene in Harry Brown when the titular pensioner and war veteran has had enough of all the hoodie-hoodlums terrorizing his run-down neighborhood that he goes to buy some fire-arms and fight back himself. The 'arms merchants' - drug-dealers themselves - who are selling him a gun are so horrific, so effective at generating tension and just plain getting under-your-skin that the film starts to head into full blown horror film territory:  Pornography, mutilation and quite close to a snuff film within the film (actually, there are, in essence, cellphone made snuff films in not one, but two different scenes within the film), yet somehow the film manages to stay grounded by its own weird logic. When soaking in the angry B-film violence of the film, one cannot help but think back on the vigilante revenge drama, from Death Wish to The Brave One (and of course the similar and recent old-timer entry, Gran Torino). There is the meticulously handled establishment of background and motivation for the main characters eventual rampage, the run-ins and suspicious hunches with the detectives, and the eventual shit-storm caused when it all goes to hell in a hand-basket. But as a solid bit of cinema, Harry Brown has two big trump cards to bust itself out of the cluttered subgenre:  The iconic Michael Caine giving a knock-out performance, and an overall dizzying sense of style - This may be the most craft-level handsome revenge movie ever made.

Let's start with the empathic turn from Michael Caine.  The 77 year old actor imbues the character with a slow-burn hardening of resolve and a near-endless amount of reserve  (and steely nerve) when he gets up some inertia.  While the screenplay isn't going to win any awards on originality or timely deep look at society, it does get the job done for this sort of movie in staying out of the way of its lead performance.  And far from the ugly non-sympathetic (even slightly enigmatic) turn in Mike Hodges wonderful Get Carter, the handsome cad in either Alfie or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, or the warm voice of reason in Christopher Nolan's movies, Caine here is coming at things from dare I say a completely new angle. You sympathize, rage, and all around understand his eventual actions from his hang-dog face and steely resolve. Here is hoping that you've got 20 years or more left in you Mr. Caine, keep doing what you do!

Far more energy and scrutiny was spent on shot selection and lighting and how each camera angle and filter contributes to Mr. Caine's state of being.  From a hand-held camera-phone opener to the sodium lamp imbued London projects, and a aforementioned set-piece in the underground marijuana grow-op slash weapons shop, this picture is gorgeous (and gritty and sad) to look at. Heck, even plot points are divulged with visual styles (as in cell phone camera foreshadowing.) All this attention to detail, and yet the picture may be too violent and bloody for those who appreciate that sort of thing, and too 'artsy' for those wanting a straightforward revenger like Taken. Sure Steven Soderbergh imbued a stunning style and quite experimental structure with his own stab at the genre, The Limey (another old timer at the forefront, Terrence Stamp) and Belgian Erik Van Looy got all Michael Mann-, Tony Scott-ish with his geezer revenge picture, The Alzheimer Case, but with Harry Brown, the grit and the photography is so subtly geared to the main characters state of being, it is worth seeing for that aspect alone.

Too violent for the art-house, Miramaxed, 21st century Caine crowd and way too meticulous and deliberate for the action crowd, Harry Brown is the type of movie that is ripe for the ScreenAnarchy crowd, if not for box office bonanza; its sensibilities lie right down the middle between exploitation and drama.

Harry Brown

  • Daniel Barber
  • Gary Young (screenplay)
  • Michael Caine
  • Emily Mortimer
  • Charlie Creed-Miles
  • David Bradley
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Daniel BarberGary YoungMichael CaineEmily MortimerCharlie Creed-MilesDavid BradleyActionCrimeDrama

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