Ever have one of those days when getting out of bed just doesn’t seem worth it? Harry Brown (Michael Caine) has more of those than you. See, his wife’s just split, leaving Harry alone on an estate swarming with teens trussed up like mini gangsters. Not even the pub where he plays chess with old (and only) chum Leonard (David Bradley) is safe – even there, the blighters parade illegal substances in blinding daylight. Oh, the youth of today.
And things are about to get worse. “I’m scared all the time, Harry,” whimpers Leonard, before he is hacked to death in the nearby underpass. Asked by DI Frampton (Emily Mortimer) if his friend had expressed any concerns, Harry shrugs. “Just kids,” he gruffs. But, now burning with a blistering sense of purpose, ex-Marine Harry (important, that) has a plan: armed with his own artillery, he’s determined to clean the riff raff off the estate no matter what the cost.
Echoing concerns briefly tangled with in Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, Harry Brown makes no bones about it: this tale of vigilante vengeance is Meant To Shock. Bursting out of the starting gate with a dizzying, phone-recorded attack on a young mother, and climaxing in a violent orgy of blood and fire, director Daniel Barber shoves it all up there on-screen, unapologetic and fiercely in-your-face.
The moralising may be as subtle as a kick in the teeth, but Harry Brown isn’t really concerned with realism. This is a horror movie vision of a very possible future, where the values of yesteryear have been cemented over by an ASBO uprising. The cartoon violence is indeed shocking, but in a histrionic, slasher flick way. And the sensationalism extends to the film’s troublesome teens; bruised, animalistic vagrants dwarfed in ridiculousness only by a grotesque, scarred drug dealer. In contrast, the police are ineffectual, toffee-nosed fools.
Caine, at least, is fantastic. Playing Harry like a retired Jack Carter, he brings much-needed pathos to the film’s loud pontificating, and softens its rough edges with some well-timed comedy (dark and dry though it may be).
But there’s always that nagging feeling that Barber could have forged a far more affecting film by employing a defter touch. As it is, Harry Brown’s attempted social commentary is all but drowned out by the scream of bullets and profanity. Still, it’s worth getting out of bed for.
Anticipation: Revenge of the OAPs! Bring on the carnage. 4
Enjoyment: It’s bloody and brutal, and as over the top as anything by Quentin Tarantino. 3
In Retrospect: Gran Torino’s meaner older brother; but its bark is worse than its bite. 3