Friday, 13 November 2009

Harry Brown - Review

It's been a while since I've seen a Michael Caine film. Sure he's been in two of my favourite films of the last decade (The Prestige and The Dark Knight) but ask yourself, when was the last time you have actually seen a film that has starred Michael Caine in the leading role? Nope. Didn't think so.

Which brings me to the unofficial third instalment of 2009's "Pensioners Strike Back" series that has seen Clint Eastwood channel his inner-Harry Callahan in the brilliant neo-Western Gran Torino and of course Ed Asner as the wonderfully soulful Carl Fredricksen in Pixar's beautiful tale of Up.

Though obviously having more in common with Eastwood in Gran Torino than Asner in Up, Caine stars as Harry Brown, an elderly widower and former Royal Marine who has lived to see his East London council estate overrun by violent gangs, drugs and crime. When his best friend Leonard (David Bradley) is brutally murdered and the gang leader responsible walks free, Harry finds himself snapping. Soon, his desire for revenge leads to Brown facing up to the young thugs, with terrifying results.

Don't let the poor marketing of this film fool you, this is not another average Guy Ritchie rip off in the vein of seemingly every straight-to-DVD feature starring Danny Dyer. Debut director Daniel Barber has delivered a chilling insight into the decaying social state of Britain's working class communities, its cold, dark, gritty and a completely harrowing experience. The violence was perhaps over exaggerated (interviews in the media with the director suggest otherwise...) but it's hard to deny that Harry Brown was one of the most gripping cinematic showings I have witnessed all year.

Michael Caine has already proved time and time again over the last few years he can go toe to toe with the young guns of modern cinema, however this film proves that he can still lead a story with grace, integrity and sheer class. Though Bradley's brief contribution was indeed a gem to witness, the only other actor of any genuine mention goes to Emily Mortimer who was an absolute pleasure to watch on screen as the local detective keeping close tabs on Brown's vigilante crusade who desperately wanted to help Harry but was restrained by the red tape of the questionable British legal system.

Finally I must say that the cinematography of Harry Brown was genuinely excellent, really playing on the complete despair of the character's bleak surroundings, from his own home in the run down council estate to the almost surreal drug den that frankly would not be too out of place in the likes of Clockwork Orange or Bronson. As one of the characters rightfully says, you would not live here if you could avoid it.

Final Thoughts
Gritty, cold, violent and sometimes even quite unsettling. Daniel Barber has managed to capture some of the sobering truths of the hardships facing working class Britain today, and the anti-social behaviour that goes along with it. Michael Caine shows the world, once again, why he is one of the most treasured stars of the industry, combining with some top quality support and a bagful of suspense and hard hitting drama, though it doesn't quite hit the heights of British cinema's best revenge film Dead Man's Shoes however Harry Brown might...just might be the best British film of 2009.


See this if you like...
Gran Torino, Dead Man's Shoes, Man On Fire...most gritty ITV dramas ala Taggart, Silent Witness etc.

Harry Brown is in most cinemas from today.

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