It’s unfortunate that this film has come out whilst Gran Torino is still stuck in our collective minds, because it’s impossible to avoid making comparisons between the two films.
Harry Brown is a lonely, lonely old man. His only child died decades ago and his wife is spending her final days hooked up to machines in hospital. On a good day, Harry gets to go to the pub to play chess with his friend Leonard but even that is becoming a difficulty, mainly ’cause of the kids that hang about the housing commission flats.
It’s a fairly dystopian view that’s presented by Daniel Barber’s film. Not only does Harry live out a miserable, lonely existence, but the kids that hang out by the underpass are behind all sorts of things – drugs, rape, bashings, even murder. The film paints a pretty horrid picture and I suppose this is a prerequisite of the genre, because we all need to be behind Harry when he goes vigilante.
The main problem with Harry Brown is that we all know where this is heading. Once Harry lets slip that he used to be in the marines, we know it’s only a matter of time. The film doesn’t play it for laughs whatsoever, unlike the confused Gran Torino, which couldn’t decide if it was being serious or taking the piss. Or maybe it was simply me that couldn’t decide if it was being serious or taking the piss. In any event, Harry Brown is clearly the better of the two films. Its consistently dogged approach to misery and horror is fantastic and there are several scenes that are of exquisite construction.
Alas, it’s really hard to truly be taken by a film that is so predictable. Emily Mortimer plays the only member of the police who has worked out what’s truly going on, and her depiction of the paradoxically strong yet weepy detective is interesting, though leans towards frustrating. She comes out strong, giving away no emotion whatsoever to the young thugs she interviews, but then loses it when things get rough – strange for a senior policewoman.
Michael Caine is of course fantastic – though he hasn’t ever put in a bad performance (even in that film that interviewers always enjoy bringing up, Jaws: The Revenge). His portrayal of a man who has nothing to lose is chilling, yet when placed alongside his obvious frailty, we can’t help but fear for his safety.
Harry Brown is a strong, if overly dark vigilante flick. Its strengths can’t be denied, but it would have been better if the film has something more original to share with us.Rating: