Running time: 103 mins
Director: Daniel Barber
Starring: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Ben Drew
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Senior citizen and former British serviceman Harry Brown (Michael Caine) has seen his family, friends and community wither and die at the hand of the inner city youth of today and he’s just about had enough of it all.
The vigilante film is a personal favourite of mine, mainstream and exploitation cinema have offered up many memorable offerings over the years but with the ground so well and truly covered is there much room for another out there?
Michael Caine was, in his day, one of the definitive British Alpha males. In recent years, thanks to age and the roles on offer he’s become something of a soft character for the modern day film audience so it’s a genuine pleasure to see the Get Carter star back to laying down vengeance and chewing up the film. The narrative is a simple story; vigilante films work best when the narrative is simplistic. The world is unjust; a tragedy occurs; one person says enough is enough and is the rest is physical violence and pyrotechnics. The film has resonances of the western genre also; the vigiliante urban western is a film that demands something of a siege mentality and the scripting of the elderly versus the immoral youth of today is actually genius. Again this is a genre with set expectations and narrative points it’s required to hit in order to pay off so it’s not a negative that Gary Young’s screenplay is by the book. Young’s previous cinematic offerings have all played well within the sandbox of the genre movie and until Harry Brown his best example of this was The Tournament.
Cinematographically Harry Brown is a muted film; it’s beautifully downbeaten in it’s look and Martin Ruhe’s use of lighting tells a story all by itself. Ruhe’s eye is phenomenal and the fact that he went straight from the heavy grey concrete world of Harry Brown and straight into the rich textural realm of Anton Corbijn’s The American showcases the true brilliance of the man and how his eye and palette tells a story.
Caine (Harry Brown) is in remarkable form, his years on screen have served him well and he now plays the smaller moments on screen with a lot more subtly and sophistication than when he last carried a film of this style. He has an ability to menace yet encourage sympathy in an audience that is simply stunning. Emily Mortimer is an excellent piece of casting in the role of ‘the one cop that can see the big picture’ and has a few interesting moments on screen with Caine but truth be told her character (like many others in the supporting realm) is unfinished and two dimensional. It’s a real shame as many of the supporting performers are bonafide heavy hitters especially David Bradley (Harry Potter franchise) and Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) who I could watch on an eternal loop with my eyelids glued to my scalp, even Iain Glen (as Superintendent Childs) is underused... criminal. It’s understandable, the story is that of Harry and the Hoods of the estate but I can’t help but feel that it makes the world surrounding the main narrative rather small. The best piece of casting in Harry Brown (with the exception of Caine…obviously!) is Ben Drew (aka Plan B) as Noel Winters; granted his character is relatively uncomplicated and thoroughly unlikeable but sometimes people are like that and especially in the vigilante genre where it’s downright necessary. I had not seen a lot of Drew’s work and was pleasantly surprised with not only his delivery but also his command of the screen; add to that the amount of time he’s getting to spend with cinema’s big dogs (also include Ray Winston in The Sweeney) and you’ve got a promising cinematic career on the horizon.
Genre cinema is very much like a dance. You can be an incredibly good dancer and hit all the right steps in time and at the right time but unless you’re able to bring something new and vibrant to the dance you’ll never become a great dancer. Harry Brown manages all the right steps in time to the beat of the vigilante jig and though there are some excellent touches to it the film very much feels like a good dance rather than a breathtaking one.