Starring: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, David Bradley and Liam Cunningham
Written by: Gary Young
Directed by: Daniel Barber
Running Time: 1hr 43mins
WINNER – Empire Awards – Best British Film
NOMINEE – Empire Awards – Best Actor (Michael Caine) and Best Thriller
NOMINEE – London Critics Circle Film Awards – Breakthrough British Filmmaker (Daniel Barber)
NOMINEE – AARP Movies for Grownups Awards – Best Actor (Michael Caine)
“You failed to maintain your weapon, sir.” – Harry Brown
“Harry Brown’s a vigilante. He’s never been a gangster in his life, never been dishonest before or anything. You’re talking about a man who is completely innocent and very old, who is driven to extremes and although he becomes a vigilante, I played him in a way that he never becomes a protagonist. He always remains a victim. When you see him in the end, he’s killed several people and you still think of him as a victim of the circumstances rather than someone who went out and killed somebody.” – Michael Caine – Empire Magazine
Similar to some of the latter Charles Bronson movies, such as DEATH WISH and its sequels, HARRY BROWN is a violent vigilante film that pulls no punches. Yet, if a movie was ever elevated to another level because of a single character, HARRY BROWN is it. The script by Gary Young gives viewers some interesting character development and this, mixed with an emotional Michael Caine performance, offers the audience a different take on the vigilante genre, as it’s both an exciting and more emotional version of this kind of story.
Harry Brown is an ex-marine whose best years are long behind him. He’s in his seventies, lives in a rundown apartment and spends his day walking over to the hospital where his wife lies dying. His only real distraction is the time he spends at the local bar playing a friendly game of chess with his friend Leonard. Crime is rampant in his neighborhood and the cops aren’t doing enough about it. Harry does his best to just sit passively by ignoring the situation, that is, until Leonard decides he’s had enough and is killed while confronting the gang that terrorizes the neighborhood. Then, as this is a revenge story, Harry decides it’s time to act and lay out his own form of justice.
As a debut feature from its director, Daniel Barber, HARRY BROWN is a well-constructed thriller. The look created by cinematographer Martin Ruhe, has the color mostly drained from the image giving a gritty tone to a film that isn’t scared to showcase its violent side. Barber, and his editor, Joe Walker, refuse to rush the plot forward nor let the violent action drive the story. They take their time moving everything along, giving the viewer a chance to really get to know Harry inside and out. Slower than viewers of this kind of film may expect, it never drags because Harry’s inner story is just as interesting as the external revenge tale being presented.
The movie‘s opening moments effectively introduce the exact tone that will be present throughout the film. The first thing viewers witness is a gang of thugs shooting a woman who is doing nothing more than walking her baby through the park. It is a meaningless kill, only committed for the enjoyment of its perpetrators. Harry explains towards the film’s end, “To them out there, this is just entertainment.” The introduction of our lead, Harry Brown, follows this. He wakes up alone, slowly gets ready for his day and then walks over to the hospital to visit his ailing wife. It’s a touching series of scenes that introduces us to a character we immediately become emotionally involved with. Opening the movie with two very different tones like this lets the audience know exactly what they are about to experience. Even though the film they have chosen to watch will go all out with its portrayal of violence, it will also stay true to the reality of who our main character is inside. He is more than just an angry tool that the filmmakers use to get audiences excited. Young has written an intelligent script that doesn’t forget that the more genuine Harry feels as a character, the more real the situation will feel and the more the viewers will relate to him.
Caine is the perfect fit to play the lead. At his age, the lines on his face help to show Harry as a defeated man who’s lived a long life. He struggles through his days as he has very little left after his wife dies early in the film. Caine’s performance is a subtle one as he runs the gambit from loneliness to anger to sorrow. When he stands up to the much younger bad guys, he is not the kind of hero that we have grown to expect from actors like Bronson or Clint Eastwood. Caine uses Brown’s age to give the character dimension and a sort of truth. After facing off with three gang members, he collapses to the ground, exhausted. He never gets the best of the younger foes with his physical strength. This brings a real genuine element to the character as well as the story as a whole, giving the audience something and someone to get a real grasp on as the plot unfolds.
Some of Caine’s best scenes come early on and incorporate Harry’s best friend, Leonard, played by David Bradley. Caine and Bradly play wonderfully off of each other, as these scenes are so important when building the character of Harry. It is the honesty portrayed in their interactions that really helps to build and emotional bond that sets up much of Harry’s story.
HARRY BROWN is the perfect example of how great characters can elevate a movie to a level higher than most. The filmmakers chose to allow character and story to take precedence over the thrill of the scene, which then goes on to make many of these scenes more effective. One set piece, in particular, has Harry visiting a drug den to buy a gun. This could have easily gone the way of a straight gunfight letting the action drive everything forward. Instead, there is an additional character of a woman incorporated into the scene who has been beaten and tortured, adding an emotional element to how everything plays out. This adds just the right touch of sympathy that the viewer witnesses throughout the film, which helps to allow HARRY BROWN to stand out from the pack.
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