johnlink ranks HARRY BROWN (2009)

HARRY BROWN is a bleak and desperate vengeance flick which owes at least a little bit to DEATH WISH. It, amazingly, has an elderly and powerful Michael Caine in the role of the vigilante. This is an English film set in the ghetto, and it is a scrappy little picture. Glad I found it…

I watched HARRY BROWN (2009) on 10.20.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

Michael Caine is the epitome of class. It is almost unbecoming to have him in such a grimy film. HARRY BROWN needs his presence, his underlying optimism, his stillness. It takes a long time and a great force to get Harry going, but he is an absolute force once he does.

This is not a movie which is in a hurry to get to the violence. Whereas DEATH WISH revels in its outbursts, showing the rape for example, HARRY BROWN is ashamed of its brutality. It saves it for later as a way of ensuring it will land. Indeed, much of the first half-hour of this film is quiet and understated. When it   embraces the themes of vengeance, it takes a sharp turn. Credit to Director Daniel Barber for that.

The script is less skillful. Major beats rely on coincidence of characters running into each other at just the right time. The timing of events feels forced, as if a slow-moving iceberg suddenly lurches forward several miles before slowing again, then lurching again. The pacing of the script is odd, even if the film ultimately finds a way to justify this in its editing and tonality. While not a terrible script, it is certainly the weakest aspect of the film.

The acting, on the other hand, is great. Caine is stunning in the titular role. He plays a man of stillness who suffers great tragedy in his life. When he has nothing left to tether him to normalcy, a final tragic event has him reverting back to his days as a Marine. The training first kicks in, literally, in a moment of drunken reflex. He allows himself to put that past life on like an old suit, a suit he wears well.

Harry Brown takes on a local gang of young men, and the young men are brutal and easily hated. The performances are necessarily grimy, and even the police have some of the stench on them. Everyone in this film has their decency tested, and the line of what defines decency moves as the story progresses. Despite all this, HARRY BROWN attempts to find a small sliver of hope in its finale. But while the subway entrance, which serves as a central location in the film, may have a new paint of coat on its surface, we sense that the dirt isn’t too far buried.

This is a film which sailed mostly under the radar, at least my radar. I’m really glad I stumbled upon it, and I recommend giving it a run. I just wouldn’t watch it on a first date.






~ by johnlink00 on October 21, 2012.

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