October 17, 2010


There has been a lot written on this, billing it as a British, more violent Gran Torino. As snappy as that sounds, it’s really not the case. Where Eastwood went for notes of hope and redemption, Caine and director Berber go more for unrelenting darkness. This is more along the lines of Caine’s earlier revenge flick Get Carter.

There seems to be a growing trend of vigilante/revenge films lately – The Brave One, Taken, Law Abiding Citizen - and whether this is an extension of the recent superhero films (often operating outside the law, and often being misunderstood by it), or a societal fluctuation such as occurred in the 70’s (Dirty Harry, Death Wish, Taxi Driver) I can’t really say. I’m not going to argue the political/moral implications inherent in the vigilante sub-genre either. These types of films tend to walk a fine line of fascist wish fulfilment, but having said that you are often meant to be identifying with these characters pushed beyond the law.

But as for this film, which finds Caine’s eponymous hero dishing out violent retribution to the local hoodie gang on the council estate, it’s something of a depressing, violent watch. Caine is as magnetic a lead as ever, and he marks the transition from grieving widower and friend to vigilante with a real humanity. You cannot help but feel for him - he has no family to speak of after his wife dies and his best (and only) friend is brutally murdered. On top of that, it's Michael bleedin' Caine; one of the coolest men in cinema and a man who has turned to many a fine piece of character work in his older years. His Harry Brown (ex-service man, served in Ireland during the Troubles) doesn't switch to a cold-blooded uber-killer quickly or easily. He makes more than a few mistakes, and his age proves a hindrance. It's a refreshing change from the non-stop, no-mistakes anti-heroes of recent efforts.

It's a pretty depressing watch overall. There are, here in real life, actual gangs of youths roaming various council estates causing all sorts of trouble. And as mush as it is a visceral thrill to see these callow youths get violent comeuppance, somehow I don't think shooting them all dead is the all-encompassing answer. And where does Harry find himself at the end of all this violence? He doesn't appear to feel any guilt or remorse; he looks as if he doesn't feel much of anything anymore. He's doled out his violent justice, but he's still alone.


  1. There is something about the American films such as Taken and The Brave One (I've not seen Law Abiding Citizen), which still have a fantasy sheen, while Harry Brown has that authentic housing estate grittiness which the British can do in spades (best exemplified I think by the work of Andrea Arnold, Shane Meadows and Lynne Ramsay). And Sir Michael of Caine is sensational in this, disappearing into the role of Harry, so that you do forget you're watching an icon - I can't imagine either Sir Sean or Sir Anthony pulling this off.

  2. What impressed me most about Harry Brown was the casting of the junkies. I thought their performances were amaaaaazing.

  3. Also? had to come back to mention that the word I had to type in before it would let me comment before? was uncleskin. Ew.