Living alone in a depressed housing estate in East London, Harry Brown (Michael Caine) plays chess with fellow pensioner, his friend and neighbour Leonard (David Bradley). When Leonard is killed by a gang of local thugs who hang about the estate and in the dark tunnel under the expressway dealing in drugs and perpetrating violence, Harry feels compelled to do something. Brown, a retired Marine, comes into conflict with the police, led by investigating officer Frampton (Emily Mortimer).
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This tragic London tale is an echo of a universal malaise, of bored and uneducated youths turning to drugs and crime, threatening not only their own well being and their own lives, but the safety and the lives of others. Both director Daniel Barber and Michael Caine talk about the screenplay's relevance to their own lives as part of their motivation for making it. Caine is quoted as saying "I come from the slums ... with this role my life experience is almost set up for it." Barber says he identified with the script from living on the edge of an estate in London when he was in college, "to the fears I have today as a father".
All of that feeds into the film; it's tough and challenging, but entirely necessary. Barber says: "Brown doesn't brush his problems under the carpet and neither should society." It would be simplistic to label the film a vigilante movie - it has a more complex ambition.
But Barber misjudges the portrayal of the barman at Harry's favourite pub. He is used as a device that isn't necessary and one that detracts from the integrity of the screenplay. It's one false note in an otherwise disciplined and powerful film.
Michael Caine gives a terrific portrayal as Harry Brown. He says these days he pushes himself into more difficult roles "and this seemed very difficult." He carries the film's emotional payload on his face; he has to play the central character in what is essentially a hero's journey, yet without heroics or triumphalism. The violence is brutal, never glamorous. The moral landscape is grey, although Harry Brown has a pragmatic take on the moral issue, one that resonates. Emily Mortimer is also outstanding as the Detective Inspector, delivering a credible, three dimensional character.
There is one small riff in the screenplay that resonates especially loudly: when the elderly Leonard (David Bradely) tells Harry he plans to take matters into his own hands, Harry advises him to go to the police. Leonard is chilling when he says, "I already have - and they've done nothing." This isn't meant to be critical necessarily of the police, but it's a fact of life that police can not provide 100% protection in our cities. It raises a profound question that's as relevant here in Australia as it is the UK and everywhere else.
Review by Louise Keller:
A hard-hitting drama that knocks you sideways, this superbly constructed film about an ageing ex-Marine faced with the problems associated with living in a dangerously depraved neighbourhood, is a wonderful vehicle for the great Michael Caine. It's a tough story in which the lines of morality blur, and in order for us to fully comprehend the actions of its protagonist, it is vital for director Daniel Barber not to spare us from the violence depicted or the disturbing dissoluteness. So be prepared to be disturbed. The result is well worth while.
First, the scene is set. We get to see first hand, the kind of shocking violence that occurs in and around the pedestrian subway near the suburban London housing estate. Then we meet one of the estate's residents, the meticulous Harry Brown (Caine), who is precise in everything he does. He dresses with care, and everything has its place in his apartment. But Harry's life is filled with loss: he has lost all those who mean something to him. Most of his time is spent playing chess and having a beer at the local pub. His previous life as a decorated Marine is locked away in the annals of his mind. And then his chess partner Len (David Bradley) is viciously killed.
What happens next is a combination of devastating police procedural and exciting thriller as Harry discovers things that shock us to the core. The horrifying scene in which Harry walks headlong into the grimy world of the drugs, guns and underage girls is a revelation and the seedy head dealer Stretch (Sean Harris, haunting), covered in tattoos and body piercings is one of the scariest, most vile characters I have seen on film in a long while. When he frenetically scratches himself, his internal and external filth is magnified.
Emily Mortimer brings class and a strong morality to the former fraud squad inspector assigned to the case in addition to sensitivity and perceptiveness. But it is Michael Caine's enigmatic presence throughout that keeps us riveted - from the beginning until the film's thrilling and sobering conclusion.
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HARRY BROWN (MA)
CAST: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Charlie Creed-Miles, David Bradley, Iain Glen, Sean Harris, Ben Drew,
PRODUCER: Keith Bell, Matthew Brown, Chris Thykier, Matthew Vaughn
DIRECTOR: Daniel Barber
SCRIPT: Gary Young
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Martin Ruhe
EDITOR: Joe Walker
MUSIC: Ruth Barrett, Martin Phipps
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kave Quinn
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 20, 2010