Sunday 30 June 2013

Harry Brown (2009)

Daniel Barber's first full-length feature could, at a casual glance, be seen as a lazy way to fast-track him into the growing collection of great UK film-makers such as Shane Meadows, Danny Boyle, Christopher Smith, Neil Marshall, Guy Ritchie (YES, I said Guy Ritchie), Michael Winterbottom and others. It's a crime movie, it's done with a measured amount of gritty realism and it's got Michael Caine in it. So far so seen-it-all-before. But Harry Brown brings a bit more to the mix than just that.

Michael Caine IS Harry Brown, an old man living on a rather dilapidated council estate, spending his time either visiting his ill wife, playing chess with his friend Leonard (David Bradley) or simply filling the lonely, bleak hours in between such little moments of pleasure while, around him, the local area is going to ruin thanks to local teenagers playing with knives, guns and drugs and terrorising those who try to get on with their daily lives. When things happen that directly affect Harry he is then forced into making a decision he never thought he would make . . . . . . and to start cleaning up the estate. But it's not long before one good policewoman (Emily Mortimer) starts to suspect Harry's hand in the latest, bizarre events.

Michael Caine is an icon, an untouchable living British legend who can get by simply by being Michael Caine nowadays. Which is why it's been all the more impressive to see him put in damn fine performances in recent years and his portrayal of Harry Brown is one of his very best. Vulnerable and weak one moment, tough and dangerous the next, it's all believable thanks to Caine's performance. It helps that he's surrounded by the likes of Emily Mortimer, Liam Cunningham, Sean Harris and a group of young actors who all put in excellent acts, even while playing people you hope to never, ever meet in your life.

The character motivation feels real enough, the twists and turns don't leave you feeling cheated and the script stays truthful (sometimes disturbingly so) within the environment created for the movie so that's a success for writer Gary Young and director Daniel Barber that goes beyond any that a mix of standard crime antics and flashes of style could have provided.

The overall experience may be a little bit cold and bleak for some viewers but this is still a movie worth seeing, one that both entertains and makes you wince while also raising a number of moral questions as events move towards the climax.


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