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Michael Caine Gets Dirty in the Intriguing ‘Harry Brown’

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Average: 4 (2 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Who needs the Dark Knight when there is Michael Caine, not as Alfred the Butler, but as the Vigilante Retiree and title character in “Harry Brown.” And he does it all without a rubber suit, just tons of firepower.

Caine portrays Harry in the twilight of his life, after losing his beloved wife. He lives in public housing that is fast deteriorating, which crumbles further when a mother is murdered in front of her child. Harry also observes a nightly ritual of break-ins, drug peddling and general terrorism, making it difficult for him and his best friend Leonard (David Bailey) to move freely about the grounds after dark.

When Leonard finally gets sick of it, he shows Harry that he intends to do something about it (an old sword for protection). It doesn’t take long for a confrontation to occur, and in the melee Leonard suffers a fatal beating. Enter Detective Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer), who investigates the beating and takes a liking to Harry.

Harry is tormented by the quick demise of his wife and best friend. He begins to fog up and look at his corner of the world in seething rage. Carefully he pulls out a small pistol among the mementoes of his former life, that of a decorated military specialist. He decides to act boldly, and visits the main drug dealer in the housing project. He is there to buy a weapon, but in a stunning aftermath effects so much more.

Dirty Harry: Michael Caine Confronts Evildoers in ‘Harry Brown’
Dirty Harry: Michael Caine Confronts Evildoers in ‘Harry Brown’
Photo Credit: Harry Brown Productions, Ltd. & Samuel Goldwyn Films

Harry Brown then takes justice into his own hands, and it is Detective Frampton who suspects something when a series of public housing criminals start dying. Can an old man keep order in chaos by perpetuating the same fear that is used against him?

There is a stunning episode to begin the film. It is a point-of-view sequence with two boys on a motorcycle. This is an introduction to the setting at the housing project in almost a kaleidoscope, blurring images as the bike goes past the points familiar, climaxing with a brutal and cold blooded killing. This provocative audacity (the point-of-view ends with the motorcycle riders in a horrific crash) sets the tone for the film, which unfortunately doesn’t fulfill the early promise.

Michael Caine knows his characters, whether he is “Alfie” or Harry Brown. His deliberateness with Harry’s nature makes his breakdown and screw-it attitude all the more chilling as it becomes more visceral. Caine has to carry the film, as he has done in so many in the past, and flits on the edge of this narrative knife very effectively.

The supporting cast, mostly of unknown British actors, give old man Caine a run for his money, especially within an early interrogation scene with Emily Mortimer’s character. Tactic after tactic are used to make the juvenile delinquents squeal, but they come back with salacious epithets and disrespect that becomes one of the stronger moments in the film. There is a pattern that emerges based on rebelling without a cause that attempts some honesty for the perpetrators.

The violence in the film is gut wrenching, with scenes of gunshot wounds and torture that increasingly becomes more vile. There is a certain shift that occurs about half way through Harry’s journey, where his vigilante ways gives no satisfaction of revenge, becoming more sadistic and cold. If we’re suppose to be cheering for Harry Brown, somebody forgot the megaphone.

Both Sides Now: Emily Mortimer as Detective Frampton and Michael Caine in ‘Harry Brown’
Both Sides Now: Emily Mortimer as Detective Frampton and Michael Caine in ‘Harry Brown’
Photo Credit: Harry Brown Productions, Ltd. & Samuel Goldwyn Films

The film is worth seeing, if only for Caine’s performance and the questions it raises more than answers. There is a severe let-up in the story towards the conclusion and the tacked-on solution to the “mystery” of the housing project criminality is a trite cop-out, but Harry Brown does hold a mirror to our peculiar society, both with the shooters and the victims. No one gets out of here alive.

Oddly enough, there was a similar ending in Harry Brown and last week’s reviewed film “That Evening Sun.” Both of the old men were journeying past their physical world toward an undiscovered country. With Harry Brown, he was defined best in the journey, not the destination.

”Harry Brown” opens in Chicago and elsewhere in a limited release. Check local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, David Bailey, Charles Creed-Miles and Iain Glen. Written by Gary Young and directed by Daniel Barber. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2010 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

travellermimi's picture

Nice movie Harry Brown, tho

Nice movie Harry Brown, tho i’m not sure if Caine’s charecter uses tons of fire power.
Its a combination of old school tricks, picking out gang members based on their personal traits getting them when they r vulnerable, the only way an aged man can do it, and Caine’s performance is magnificient!

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