Harry Brown (the film not the guy), simultaneously manages to add itself to two lists.
The first is films where a tragedy suffered by a normally non-violent individual is used to justify copious amounts of ultraviolence, the thought obviously being that we can take satisfaction in knowing that they had it coming to them. In recent years the list goes like this:
Gran Torino is the film that I have seen Harry Brown compared with on more than a few occasions. I thought Gran Torino was amazingly simplistic and lazy in its handling of racism issues, to the point where I felt the film ended up extremely overrate just because of the director and star, as Mr Eastwood seems to get a free pass from the logic police.
In my opinion Harry Brown is more entertaining and far more realistic than any of the films listed above, however that brings us to the second list… Films that highlight areas of the world that I now never want to visit!
- Tsotsi – Come to South Africa and be murdered by teenagers!
- City of God – Come to Brazil and be murdered by kids!
- Blood Diamond – Africa again. Do you think you have too many arms?
- Hotel Rwanda – It’s not only the wildlife that is in danger of extinction.
Michael Caine is the titular Harry Brown, an elderly ex-marine who lives in a low income area council estate with many other people in a similar situation to his, and alas other less law abiding people who decide to take advantage of them.
In the early stages of the film it is clear that Harry leads a simple life well within his means, his house is poor but immaculately presented and cared for. His long time wife is unfortunately in a deteriorating state of health and confined to hospital care. She no longer has the capacity to recognise her own husband, and when she passes away he is understandably distraught. Harry’s best friend Leonard is of a similar vintage, the pair catch up over a pint at a local bar to play chess and is so fearful for his own safety that he has decided on carrying a large bayonet to protect himself from the local youth. This unfortunately does not go well for Leonard, the following day Harry gets a knock on the door and is informed that Leonard was murdered overnight. The police have taken suspects into custody for questioning and hope to get a swift conviction, although Harry seems to have his doubts.
This is where the film starts getting a lot more real. The three young people taken in for questioning are openly contemptuous of the police and savvy enough to know that not providing a straight answer to questioning will leave the police powerless. A young female detective named Alice particularly seems to bear the brunt of their scorn in an especially coarse and profane manner.
From this point on the film is pretty join the dots, the innocent and elderly are being set upon, the police can’t seem to do anything about it…
So, Harry takes matters upon himself, he goes to buy a gun from a local low-life and initiates a chain of events that progress in the same manner as many other films, including those listed above. However in Harry Brown these events and acts are especially savage and violent, and there doesn’t seem to be so much a social message as much as an excuse to mess up some “pesky teens” in brutal fashion. The ne’er-do-wells in Harry Brown are awesomely repugnant, the gun-dealer simultaneously offers Harry the “services’ of an OD’d (and basically comatose) young girl gurgling on the couch as he openly questions Harry’s ability to “perform” anyway.
In fact, the bad guys are so profane, violent and reprehensible that when Harry starts taking names you want to celebrate their removal from the Earth’s face, unfortunately though they are so realistic that you also realise that these guys actually exist somewhere, and that somehow any humanitarian message is being ignored.
These are not your standard cinema bad guys who commit vanilla crimes upon faceless individuals before being shot and clutching their chest and falling off buildings, it isn’t much fun to root for real people to get killed, even if they sorta deserve it. They are strung out, surly and unreasonably confident, they are less a gang than a bunch of punks feeding on the weak and powerless, and some of the bashings that occur are genuinely frightening in their realness. (And it is because they are real that the film becomes quite depressing, as these guys are out there bashing the elderly and taking advantage of the innocent every day, knowing full well that the police are largely incapable of stopping them.)
So I guess Harry Brown really doesn’t have much of a moral, aside from if you kill the wrong guy’s friend then an old guy might just shoot you in the face. But as a movie it is quite effective, Michael Caine is great as Harry and basically carries the film on his shoulders, in this case the bad guys do get their comeuppance, though not in the “by the book” way.
Gran Torino this is not.
Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. You can argue all you like if this represents entertainment in any way, but as a film it is quite effective and features quality performances that at least ring true, and plot events more realistic than other similar films.