Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
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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.

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Daniel BarberGary YoungMichael CaineEmily MortimerCharlie Creed-MilesDavid BradleyActionCrimeDrama

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JoelMay 28, 2010 1:09 PM

Great review, really enjoyed Michael Caine in this, but as you mentioned, I thought the stand-out scene for me was the gunshop scene. Without risking any spoilers, I thought it was one of the most tense scenes I'd seen for a LONG while and I think Sean Harris was absolutly fantastic. He had such a menace and unpredictability about him and I'd recommend this film for that part alone.

Jude FeltonMay 29, 2010 12:44 AM

I thought this was a terrific movie. I only wish it had seen a wider release in the U.S. Hopefully it will hitting DVD soon

Kwenton BelletteMay 29, 2010 10:40 AM

Exploitation and drama... Dare I say Drexploitation?
I did not enojy Harry Brown, the premise was ridiculous and overblown and it took itself way too seriously, every scene was a black pit of despair.

Kurt HalfyardMay 29, 2010 10:56 AM

All I can say that it is a revenge movie. It's supposed to be overblown and take itself seriously. Perhaps not a valid excuse, but thems the rules of the genre. I liked the queasy balance between Exploitation and Drama (I'll go the other way with "Exploitarama!")

MetrogenicMay 30, 2010 1:02 AM

I fully agree with this review. Honestly, and I'm a bit ashamed to say this, it was everything I was hoping Gran Torino would be. Now, before you slaughter me, I will say that I loved Gran Torino and consider it to be a better film than Harry Brown. But as a revenge film, Harry Brown excels beyond pretty much any I've seen recently. And that includes The Horseman, which I found a little too over the top and gratuitous, yet still pretty visceral. Pitting this against Death Wish, it wins. And that's saying something, in my book.

zinjoJune 1, 2010 12:47 PM

My only real complaint about this film is that the "motivation" or turning point for Harry to go after the punks was no clearly defined in my opinion.

Was it the death of his wife, his friend or the attack on the river walk?

It was hard to tell.

Otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable film outside the typical action genre. Being a deliberately paced vigilante piece it worked well. Unfortunately the MTV generation would not hold still long enough to enjoy the well crafted story...

Greg YolenJune 2, 2010 3:38 PM

The most craft-level handsome revenge movie ever made? For serious? That's a pretty wild claim.

You're right to draw comparison to 'The Limey,' but 'The Limey' was itself just a handsome homage to the granddaddy of American (non-Western) revenge pictures, John Boorman's 'Point Blank' starring Lee Marvin, a film worth revisiting... It still puts 'Harry'- and many other modern revenge films - to shame.

Kurt HalfyardJune 3, 2010 8:11 AM

Big fan of Point Blank here. I guess the difference to me is that I always saw that film as a pure exercise in style (and it is a doozy), Harry Brown is far from the avant garde experience of Point Blank and the director and cinematographer more simply uses its craft to give the state of its main character. Point Blank is more, for me, closer to art. A subtle difference I probably didn't articulate above. Even though they are both revenge films, they are vastly different films.