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By Robert Mann.
The movie industry of the 21st century is very different to the one that existed just twenty or thirty years ago. There was a time when the big blockbusters were serious dramas and thrillers aimed at mature movie-going audiences but now the core demographic that the movie studios is younger people, consequently resulting in many releases being of the variety that only young people are really likely to enjoy and a lack of releases for a older, more discerning viewers. Every now and then, however, a film comes along with the potential to bridge the gap between these two distinctly different audiences, each with tastes completely different to the other, and Harry Brown is one such film. Dealing with issues related to today’s so-called “Broken Britain” in the form of the youth orientated gang violence that occurs on the estates of many British cities and featuring what is purported to be a sensational performance by one of Britain’s biggest and best veteran actors Michael Caine, Harry Brown really does appear to be a film that might appeal to both older and younger viewers, something that is quite rare nowadays, and one that also has the dual potential of being both an enjoyable and engaging piece of entertainment and a thought provoking and meaningful examination of what exactly has gone wrong with this country.
Harry Brown (Michael Caine) is a widower who lives an uneventful life, enjoying a pint and playing chess with his mate Leonard (David Bradley) in their local boozer in Elephant & Castle. The neighbourhood, however, has become a hotbed of drug dealing and violent crime for savage rival gangs. The local law enforcement, in the form of detectives Frampton (Emily Mortimer) and Hickock (Charlie Creed-Miles), seem to do little more than deliver bad news when a shooting or knife attack claims another young life, and Super Intendant Childs’ zero tolerance policies only seem to attract violent retaliation. When Leonard is murdered by one of the gangs, the police are powerless to prosecute. Remembering his military experience with the Marines, Harry decides to take the law into his own hands. Quietly preparing for payback, he begins a merciless hunt for the killers.
Right from the opening sequence which, shot in hand held camera style, depicts the shooting of a single mother in front of a child by a youth, it is clear that Harry Brown is going to be an unrelenting and, quite alarmingly, accurate film. With a gritty urban style director Daniel Barber portrays “Broken Britain” at its very worst and it is quite a harrowing journey of a film. Suffice to say anyone who takes offence to excessive foul language and brutal violence should steer well clear of this film, as should anyone who wants to see a film for a good time. This is most definitely not light viewing. Thanks to believable dialogue from scriptwriter Gary Young and believable performances from all the actors playing the youth roles everything we see on screen seems completely true to life and for this reason many will likely find this to be too hard going a film. Contrary to all the hype, the film is not perfect on any level. The storyline is fairly generic, bringing nothing particularly new or original to the fold and were it not for Michael Caine the film would likely have slipped under the radar largely ignored. Also, several of the police officer characters, particularly the Super Intendant, don’t seem quite right, the character I have mentioned seeming like he would be more at home in Midsomer Murders. Despite such flaws, though, the film is bolstered by a fantastic performance from Caine who is completely believable in the role and whose character will have the full sympathy of the audience, particularly anyone who has ever really suffered at the hands of youths like those depicted in the film. Michael Caine makes this film worth seeing but it is his performance that is the heart of the film and without it Harry Brown wouldn’t have much to offer.
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