LITTLE ROCK A revenge fantasy that recalls the Charles Bronson Death Wish series and Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, Daniel Barber’s Harry Brown would be unremarkable if not for the grave, lowered gaze of Michael Caine and the relentless grittiness of its cinematography.
Opening with a bravura action sequence (apparently captured on a cell-phone camera) that’s as ugly as it is thrilling, the film tells the story of the titular fed-up pensioner (Caine), a veteran of the Royal Marines now residing in a South London council estate (i.e., housing project) terrorized by a gang of young crack driven thugs.
Harry saw and learned some hard things in his days in Ulster, fighting the Irish Republican Army, but when he married his beloved Kath, he suppressed those brutal skills. But now Kath lies dying in a hospital, and his chess buddy Len (Liam Cunningham) is perpetually afraid of the scumbags who, perhaps smelling his fear, have taken to hassling him. Len tells Harry he’s had it with the punks, and brandishes an antique bayonet. Harry advises him to go to the police. Len says he has and there’s little they can do for him.
You know the rest. In short order Harry loses Kath and Len and reverts to his old ways of handing out pain. (Caine’s performance cannily evokes his similiar turn as the avenging gangster in 1971’s Get Carter, which was one of the first - and best - examples of this cartharsis providing urban Western genre.) With nothing to lose but his supreme cool, Harry begins to wreak havoc with the local bad boys, in the process arousing the suspicions of Detective Inspector Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer).
First-time director Barber has made a stylish if redundant film, and his protestations that Harry Brown is totally unlike Death Wish only lead us to wonder if he’s ever seen the Bronson film. This is an efficient, and at timesstylish, production, but it’s as depressingly unoriginal as it is philosophically dubious.
Even so, thanks to Caine’s seamless performance, it’s not hard to watch.
MovieStyle, Pages 38 on 06/11/2010
Print Headline: REVIEW Harry Brown