Sabbath Reviews: Harry Brown (2009)
I’m going to try and sound like an actual reviewer and not just gush about this film, but excuse me if I completely fail.
Harry Brown is a 2009 British film starring Michael Caine and directed by Daniel Barber (in his feature length debut) and written by Gary Young who only has a handful of writing credits to his name. I recognized only one of those scripts — The Tournament — which I saw the trailer to and looked like it could be a good dumb action movie or a bad dumb action movie. It didn’t give me the indication that Young was capable of something as deep and wonderful as Harry Brown.
With Caine in the titular role, I expected to see good acting. I wasn’t so sure on the story — but I love me some revenge stories. This could have gone the same way of a lot of brutal revenge flicks, but it was more thoughtful than that. I didn’t know if this writer/director duo had it in them or if they would be completely relying on Caine to carry a bad plot and bad direction. Not a clue.
Let’s talk briefly about Michael Caine though. I’m twenty-two years old. I can’t lie and say I’ve followed his career since its infancy, or that I’ve looked extensively into his back catalog. Hell, my first introduction to him was in Goldmember. I’ve seen him as Alfred in the Batman series and loved him there, and I knew he was well-respected. Harry Brown showed me why. The eponymous character is a Northern Ireland vet who is growing old and finding himself completely alone.
In a short span of time, his comatose wife and his last remaining friend pass away (natural causes and murder, respectively). He is an old man with nobody left in this world to love or love him. The concept alone is thoroughly chilling — I’m not going to lie, my brain often tunes out the finer points of a film’s intellectual concepts and I have to go back and watch it again for it to hit. This one snagged me right away and made me think of my family, my friends — what would I do if they were all gone? If I were in the twilight of my life with nobody around who cared about me, who I cared about? Too late to start making new friends … you’re alone. It truly is a frightening thought and Michael Caine plays the role so well. Yes, I expected him to, but I was blown away.
When he is informed of his best friend’s death and declines the offer of the Detective to call someone he knows, or perhaps social services, and then waits for them to leave before breaking down — it’s powerful. This is a man with truly nothing left in life. What do you do when you have no purpose left? There’s two options really: end it, or find a purpose.
Revenge may not be the most noble of purposes, but it’s a purpose and that’s exactly what Harry Brown sets out to do. His best friend had confided in him that he was being harassed by youths in the area, youths that Harry has noticed too. Drugs, prostitution, and general cultural decay is taking over the area and it’s shown with such realism that it’s hard not to feel like this place is out there … that this is happening … and Michael Caine isn’t happy about it.
The film doesn’t seek to turn him into a superhero. It doesn’t show an elderly man suiting up for war Rambo-style. It’s very careful to show the fact that his health is withering and despite the training he received in his youth, he is STILL an old man. As such, the threat is always there. He doesn’t have witty one-liners, catchphrases, and he can’t ricochet bullets off of several metal surfaces to hit his mark. At one point he stabs someone and turns with the gun to shoot someone else action movie style — only to find he’s way too slow and his target had ample time to move and now has the gun on him.
The violence itself can be brutal, but not over the top. The blood is always and obviously digital effects which is a strange choice as it contrasts the realism of the film. I don’t see it as a detraction, and I can’t help feeling like that kind of stylized bloodshed has become so common in action and revenge films that its the Director’s way of grabbing his crotch and saying ‘I’ve got your revenge film conventions right here!’. I don’t pretend to know, but I don’t give a crap either ’cause the film was just GOOD. Really fucking good.
The supporting cast all do a good job as well. The cops are cops and the youth … well, they’re just filthy, disgusting animals and you want them to be annihilated. I did, anyway. I really get into my revenge fantasies. Sue me. As good as the villains were, especially for their ages, this film really and truly is about Michael Caine. I can’t say enough about his performance, so I’m going to just hop off his liver-spotted dick for a bit.
This film is really about loneliness and finding a purpose … which really is the most frightening thing any human has to deal with. It’s not the slasher waiting around the corner. It’s not the ghost in your attic or the monster under your bed. It’s not the thing from outer space or Satan coming to reclaim the world. Hell, it’s not even about the giant asteroid that could hit the planet and send it spiraling out of its orbit. The thought of losing everybody you love, which could happen to any or all of us … or possibly, we’ll be the last part of someone’s life before we pass and leave them alone in this world … that is legitimately spooky to me. I don’t want to do that to someone I love. I don’t want to be alone without the people I love and the only thing I can think of is to avenge their deaths, which in most case is going to be a one-man crusade against anyone who didn’t donate a $1 at the local movie theater to support … whatever .. research.
I’m sure I’ve overhyped this film and some of you might not like it, or hell, have watched it and didn’t like it. For the first time in a long, long time a film has got to be on some kind of level. It didn’t hurt that it delivered it with a side of revenge fantasy either. I motion that each and every one of you goes out and buys this DVD and/or get down and fellate Michael Caine. The line starts behind me. (No homo?)