Harry Brown (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
2Sep/100

Harry Brown (2010)

Andrew INDIFFERENTI wanted to unwind a bit with Harry Brown.  It looked to be a vigilante-esque movie featuring the always reliable Michael Caine.  What I got was an incredibly dour and occasionally boring slice of lower class British life with a dose of some kind of imperceptible message.  There is some good to the film but the change to that quality is abrupt, the violence is borderline sadistic, and Michael Caine delivers - just not as I expected.  This isn't all bad but without muscle it's without a point.

The opening scene consists of two different shots using cell phone cameras of some crack smoking locals hanging out in an underpass.  They're introducing some new blood into the group and take to their motorcycles.  The new one gets the bright idea of shooting at a mother and her kid for kicks.  As you might guess, he kills the mother.  His fate I'll leave for you to discover, but it's important to note that absolutely none of this has to do with Harry (Michael Caine).  It's all world building, establishing the scene that we're going to be led into, and it's not a bright one.

When we meet Harry we see that he's not quite the vigilante type.  He keeps things neat and spends his days playing chess with his buddy Leonard (David Bradley).  Sometimes he walks to the hospital to visit his comatose wife, but those scenes are a waste of time.  They don't establish any additional motive for what's to come, particularly since it's Leonard's fear of the gangs and subsequent alleyway murder that give Harry cause to resume his marine ways.

It takes almost an hour for us to arrive at this point, and I almost didn't make it.  These characters act so depressed and sullen that suicide would be too much effort.  The constant hum of barely functioning florescent lights try make the inside of every building cold and make it seem like we're looking at the world through the inside of a refrigerator.  The skies are always cloudy and it's usually raining.  Strangely enough, the shots and visual style directly quote from Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai, but without any sort of existential cool.

Life has little value to anyone here.

The first hour would be a lot easier to tolerate if director Daniel Barber and writer Gary Young were commenting on anything.  As it stands there seems to be nothing oppressing the youth or forcing them into a life of crime.  The police force is almost comically ineffective and the detectives assigned to Leonard's murder (Emily Mortimer and Charlie Creed-Miles) seem to be engaging in a stare off with the horizon.  Time passes, no progress is made, and I begin to wonder if the point of all this is simply "bad things happen".

Then something does happen - Harry goes to buy a gun from some of the gang members believed to be responsible for Leonard's death.  The movie then descends into a kind of Hell.  Their apartment is almost alive, walls throbbing with a green and aluminum while a porno plays in the background.  It's such an abrupt change of style that I'm amazed Mr. Barber was able to transition from "stark modernism" to "meaty Hell".  It's unsettling, it's creative, and Harry begins finding ways to outsmart his opponents instead of outgun them.

Harry's hunt is fascinating.  The filmmakers are too smart to allow him to go into every situation guns blazing, and allow him the time to set up and execute his schemes.  All the while Harry's age slowly becomes a factor, and it becomes a serious issue when he's trying to finish his task.  Caine goes about at wringing every out of sympathy he can out of this murderer.  Even in moments where he is not ethically superior to the gangs, you can see the struggle playing out on his face.  I hope that it's not his final leading role (he deserves a much better film) but he is fantastic in the role.

Caine's face falls so perfectly into sadness that the change is almost chilling.

The film continues to unravel along with Harry and, in it's most terrifying moment, we learn why the police are so ineffective.  Much like the concealed den of the dealers, the camera has been hiding the conditions of their surroundings.  The pub isn't so clean, the apartment complex is actually covered with graffiti, the police may be outnumbered.  What else has the camera been hiding?

The film finally musters up the courage to ask some questions about what it's vigilante is doing and why.  The problem is that while Harry slowly begins to redeem itself at the hour mark, the final moments show a level of backtracking and spinelessness that was not needed.

Harry Brown doesn't end on what you call a happy note.  But it doesn't earn the sentiment that it tries to generate in it's final moments.  For a few moments, it was staring unflinchingly at the hell of the lower class.  Then it's just another day set to end with an inappropriate techno song.

Harry Brown (2010)

Directed by Daniel Barber.
Written by Gary Young.
Starring Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Charlier Creed-Miles and David Bradley.

Posted by Andrew

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