Monday, 2 November 2009

Harry Brown - Dir. Daniel Barber

Daniel Barber’s first directorial feature is a shocking, brutal and thought-provoking affair in which Michael Caine decides to ignore retirement and chooses instead to purge his run-down, Central London estate of the young, criminal minds that plague it. Barber provides an impressive and surprisingly mature directorial debut in which he presents the issues of Britain’s broken youth, the ineffective nature of the Police in hard-to-control areas and the rise of gang culture, all of which are subjects that have been at the forefront of the social climate over the last few years. Whether you agree with the view Barber presents, or not, ‘Harry Brown’ will certainly leave you thinking about more than the recession in the current climate.

Harry Brown (Michael Caine) is a decorated ex-Serviceman who every day watches the world unfold from his flat in a downtrodden London estate. He observes the increasingly senseless violence committed by the young gang members of the estate and the open-handed nature of the drug dealers without any action being taken towards those who are constantly flouting the law in his community. However when his wife passes away, and his best-friend Leonard (David Bradley) is killed after confronting the young men who spend each day terrorising him to the point of retribution, Brown decides with nothing left to live for, to take the law into his own hands and delivers some excessively violent – Charles Bronson style - vigilante revenge.

Opening with a startlingly realistic scene in which a couple of gang members harass and ultimately shoot a young woman without provocation in a local park before riding away and falling prey to an oncoming truck, sets the sombre tone of ‘Harry Brown’ before we even reach the opening credits. The opening scene also strikes a social chord, as it is shot in low-resolution and in first-person giving the impression that it has been taken straight from one of the gang member’s phones, an act which is becoming more common within the gang culture in the UK. From here on in, the tone of the film stays bleak with Barber’s direction and Ruhe’s cinematography turning the London streets into a desolate, darkened wasteland where only the brave dare go out at night.

The real catch as always however, is one Sir Michael Caine, who turns in yet another breath-taking emotional performance as the ‘pensioner’ who decides to take the law into his own hands. He provides the performance of a broken down man whose loneliness simply fuels his uncompromising violence against the criminals who plague his estate. While Emily Mortimer and Ben Drew also pull out strong performances from their closets. Mortimer plays Detective Frampton a rising up and coming woman in the Metropolitan Police force who chose to work on Brown’s estate as she wishes to change it for the better without subverting the law, and Drew as Noel, a sadistic killer with no respect for those around him who will happily inflict ruthless cruelty upon those who cross his path.

While ‘Harry Brown’ is a competent picture, its formulaic narrative structure takes somewhat of a chink out of its armour. Despite some wonderfully shot and tense sequences during the last twenty minutes of the film, the ending of the film is nothing new and simply regurgitates everything we have seen before in the one-man-vigilante films of before. But, I still thoroughly enjoyed the film, the violence was exhilarating, the performances from Caine and Bradley were sentimental and the direction was gritty and representative of today’s modern muddled up world.
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