Michael Caine is one of the great actors of the last century. Harry
Brown would make a wonderful crowning achievement in a long and
distinguished career, though luckily it does not appear that at 77
years old that the actor is planning on retiring any time soon. In
fact, Caine has been doing some of the most interesting and risky work in
his career in recent years.
This film is being compared to a similar American story, Gran Torino
– in which elderly tough guy Clint Eastwood plays an angry widower who takes
on the tough kids that have overrun his once-quiet neighborhood.
There are definitely surface similarities in the movies – an aging acting
legend plays a recent widower who uses his skills (Harry Brown is
ex-military) to go to war with a group of violent young punks who are
terrorizing his council estate (the UK equivalent of a housing project). In
fact, the story line has deeper roots than this – both are
variations of the
old 70s Charles Bronson classic Death Wish.
However, as much as I liked Gran Torino, (and Death Wish, for
that matter) I have to say that Harry Brown is definitely a better,
Harry Brown does not
romanticize its hero in the same way Gran Torino sometimes did.
Harry knows he is in way over his head. He is terribly frightened and is
often crippled (and thus put into great danger) by
a serious emphysema condition. Unlike Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski, Harry Brown
is not merely fueled by simmering anger – though
he definitely is angry about the violent state of life in his slum London
estate (ironically, the film was made quite near Caine’s boyhood home) – but
also by desperation and a complete lack of anything left to lose.
This is because his wife dies early in the film. In fact, Brown misses
being with her in the end because he is unable to use a walking tunnel to
get to the hospital because the local toughs have taken it over to sell
drugs and fight.
These same guys are making Harry’s best friend Len’s life miserable. When
the kids stick a burning paper through Len’s mail slot and he just barely
escapes smoke inhalation, the older man decides to confront the hoods – and
is beaten to death.
Harry had been trying to ignore all of the chaos going on in his old
neighborhood. (In an early scene he watches impotently out the window as
some toughs break into a neighbor’s car and beat him and his girlfriend when
they try to stop the crime.)
However when he finds that the police are well-meaning but essentially
helpless, Brown finally realizes that he has to protect himself and perhaps
save his area from crime. This leads to some horrifically tense situations
in which Brown has only his guile to protect himself from the animal-like
denizens of the local underbelly. Particularly harrowing is a scene in
which Brown goes to buy a gun from a couple of local dealers only to find
himself in a Stygian nightmare in their filthy flat.
The tension causes the neighborhood to combust, with the criminals, the
police and Brown in a desperate battle for the soul of the area.
is certainly not an upbeat film, but it is a smart and impassioned call for
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: April 30, 2010.