Harry Brown (Daniel Barber, 2009)

He screamed for a good 10 minutes. We couldn’t send a medic in, the section was too hot. So we all took cover… and watched him die. I’ve never told that… to anyone… you should’ve called an ambulance… for the girl…”

Introduction

This was watched a long time ago and is covered on a previous ‘The Simon and Jo Show’ podcast but, as I see on Movie Moxie’s blog, it is being released very soon in America so now seems to be the time to big-up some British movies. But, alas, though it has some incredible moments, overall it sure does have problems.

Opinion/Analysis

The pre-credits ‘viral-footage’ of some youths on a bike, gun in hand, scaring the shit out of the public does shock and place high expectations on the film before we even see Michael Caine. Unfortunately, as soon as we see Caine the films slows down to the pace of the OAP he plays. Which we see initially listening to the radio news-story of the aforementioned ‘viral-footage’. He slowly gets up and slowly moves and slowly plays chess with his slow friend. Caine decides to pay back the teenagers after his chess-playing buddy – who has been harrassesd for years (poo stuffed into his letterbox, attempts on his life with fire…) decides to try and fight back with a bayonet. He fails and his ‘attack’ on the kids merely put him into the attacker category of crime – rather than the victim which he truly was. So, with a plot reminiscent of Gran Torino we have the old-man revenge mission story.

This doesn’t take away from the realism – Barber doesn’t shy away from the use of shadows and the dark and dingy nature of cheap housing and badly lit streets makes you feel a true part of the film. And helps you understand the fear Caine feels in the area. One specific scene involving Caine torturing a different boy is so cinematic with very few shards of light lighting up Caine as the real fear he wants the youths to see him as. One unneccessary section seems to be some gratutious sexual back stories. One kid who is clearly seen as a little special is dragged away by this drug dealer to his car – this hard-ass drug dealer as another part of the problems in this community and for some reason the guy forces this boy to give him oral sex. Now don’t get me wrong, I am sure these things happen – but I thought the focus was on Caine and the ‘bad kids’ in the area – when you bring in sexual abuse (which clearly the child was a victim of, hence his willingness to do the act) you expect a more compassionate tone. The abuse expected of this boy merely made you feel even more frustrated at the horrendous situation the kids were in. As a teacher, I know full-well that bad kids don’t come from nowhere – there is a reason. There is always a reason and in this film, the side we are forced to stand on is Michael Caines. The children are seen as screw-ups – in a violent way and, in this scene, even in a sexual way. No exploration of these characters really let the film down.

Fact is, I felt that the actor who played Noah (Ben Drew) was incredible. His attitude seem real and rooted in a lack of respect for the society he lives in. Everything was shut down. Nothing would phase him – his power and stance in the group was what he lived off because society had apparently given up on him. You get a brief idea of an exceptionally broken family – as you see his Mother try and stop the police from taking her son – but his disrespect towards anyone who tries to help was clear. I look forward to seeing Ben Drew in other films – especially Adulthood as it should be a similar role to this and combine that with the script of Noel Clarke and hopefully
you have a great London-youth drama. There is a small hint of back-story to Harry Brown (Caine) himself – his Wife dies in record time at the start of the film. It seems quite clear that she had been dying for a while and then passes away at the start of the film. We also know that a young 13-year child of his died many years before so there is a tragedy to this guys life – but then again maybe this shuld have been used more – the comparison to the life that theese youths have and how they have wasted their youth terrorising older folk, while Caines child died before he could enjoy his young teenage years. Personally, if the focus was more on the current stage in this mans life – and his hope to rid the estate of these criminals (rather than all this unncessary back story), it would have made a much more focussed film. Instead it attempts to touch on aspects which are never resolved.

Unfortunately for all the good things, the last act seems unneccessary. What begins as a situation on a very small scale and is handled badly by the police (Emily Mortimer as an investigator – what is her purpose? what does she achieve? Frustratingly bad – they might as well have very little police prescence in the film to point out the useless nature of them rather than badly write scenarios to make the same point). Eventually the film snowballs into some large-scale riot and ‘twists’ finish the story – ‘twists’ that no one cared to ‘look out’ for. Something that started so well and could have very slowly built up became incredibly drawn-out and, ultimately, boring by the end. To make matters worse, the last shot is of OAP Caine looking at the subway originally inhabited by the violent youths – and with no one there, he walks through it safely. So, such a complex issue of economic-deprivation and criminal behaviour is simplified to “Old man aims to clear subway”.

Then again, on a positive note, Caines angry OAP makes a good point. Having fought in Northern Ireland war, he argues that at that point he was “fighting for something” – while “these kids fight for entertainment” and, consequently, cause chaos. This is not the simple answer. The kids are often involved in these gangs and groups at a very young age and have very little reason to look elsewhere. Why are people not suprised that the children who join these gangs have such a twisted logic. Money, power, sex and control is what ‘defines’ success in the media – so why are we not suprised that this is created on a smaller scale in shifty housing estates. When success is defined as happiness, family and culture, etc, then the economically-deprived areas will be proud of their important part of society – and not demand the ‘money’ and ‘power’ that can be gained very easily in criminal behaviour. We need to think more of Rafelsons Five Easy Pieces rather than everyone expecting to come out on top like Rocky.

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3 comments

  1. good review! a little contradiction where, at one point you criticise its slow pace, then later suggest it could have 'built up slowly'.
    aside from that, good points well made!

    Bangor Rep

  2. Man alive Bangor Rep, “could have very slowly built up became incredibly drawn-out and, ultimately, boring by the end”. It needs to slowly build up OPPOSED to just being too slow which it was. The point is, it didn't really feel like it was building up – rather just unneccessarily drawn out. Caine playing chess … boring.

    Yeah Pete, you should check it out – should take you back to telford: then watch Fishtank and Kidulthood!

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