Matt Gibson (gothick_matt) wrote,
Matt Gibson

Harry Brown

Here's a quick review. Might be a bit disjointed, as I'm just bashing it out quickly within an hour or two of seeing it, but hey. No big spoilers; mostly observations on some characters and acting, and some not-too-detailed observations about the plot. But if you're the type to be easily spoiled, you'll have to make your own mind up about reading on.

The setting -- a run-down council estate -- is the first major character we meet in Harry Brown. And it's well-realised, from the dirty underpasses and grim canal to the faded furniture in Harry's flat. Its inhabitants -- a mixture of seedy crackheads and their innocent victims -- are the unceasing backdrop to the film. It's beautifully, darkly, shot, with the close focus on Michael Caine's elderly body, especially his hands, helping him to convince as a pensioner whose glory days are long-past.

Harry's best friend, the main catalyst to Harry Brown's actions later in the film, also convinces. David Bradley -- whom I know better as comedy villain Stemroach in Ideal is volatile and vulnerable, and his fear of the estate's thuggish kids is kindling for the film's later fire.

Speaking of BBC3's comedy, Two Pints...' "Munch" Wilkinson -- Lee Oakes -- also puts in an appearance as we get to know some of the estate's feral gang in person during police interviews a short way into the film. Again, not quite his normal comedy role, though one of the few lighter moments in the film.

I found, though, from the police interviews onwards, that one of the film's weaknesses was its number of interchangeable antagonists. They're all quite well-characterised as far as they go, but the film lacks a proper single villain for Caine to set himself against. This endless amoral rabble may be more realistic than a Big Baddie, but it doesn't work so well for the film's structure or conviction.

One notable exception to the "not too bad" villain-acting is Sean Harris, gruesomely convincing as estate drug dealer "Stretch", and easily matching Caine for acting talent as he drips evil over every scene he's in.

Back to merely "not too bad", though, for the police of the film, an almost entirely two-dimensional, ineffectual and uncaring plod wheeled out mostly to be so obviously pointless that Harry Brown feels the need to take matters into his own hands, and so that we can't sit back saying, "but why didn't he just call the police?" Even the main copper protagonist, played by Emily Mortimer, doesn't seem to quite know what she's doing, and her role feels seriously underdeveloped.

I'm focusing on the characters here because when they're good, they're the absolute high points of the film. The plot is simplistic, way too black-and-white in its direction and its morality, which has a detrimental effect on the characters. I'd love to have seen that similar-sounding Clint Eastwood movie, Gran Torino; it sounded like Eastwood's angry racist protagonist would have a lot more dimension to him than Caine could manage to give his ex-Marine, fundamentally sound-old-man character. It'd be nice to be able to make a comparison.

Anyway. The plot, such as it is, sees Harry setting out to, basically, extract revenge, starting almost accidentally, but becoming surer and sterner as the film moves forwards. The limitations of an elderly body on a physically demanding mission are acknowledged, without ever turning into a cheap laugh, and the unending soullessness of the setting and characters are laid out before him as he battles his way to the climax.

In the end, escalating estate warfare comes to a head as a fatuous, disconnected chief of police raids the estate at the same time as Harry, the higher-up thugs and the more sympathetic police characters bring their personal drama to a climax.

I'll avoid commenting on the ending in detail for fear of spoilers.

Harry Brown has its weak points, but it's definitely gripping from beginning to end, and the strength of some of the characters pulled it fairly successfully through the seen-it-all-before plot. It's good, if depressing, visually, and the soundtrack is delicately menacing -- unfortunately a little too delicate not to get trampled over by the next door film at the multiplex I was in *sigh*.

In summary, if you're looking for something a little dark, with some gruesome bits all the more gruesome because you know you could probably find most of them on an estate not a long way from you, then Harry Brown might be what you're looking for. I certainly don't regret seeing it. Although some of the scenes may stay with me a little longer than I'd want.

Tags: film, movie, review

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