Rewatched Jul 06, 2012
Tony Black’s review:
Anyone who knows the career of Sir Michael Caine will be aware for every Italian Job, there has been a Jaws: The Revenge - he's made some terrible career decisions. Over the last decade, however, he's experienced a renaissance of wise supporting parts but in Harry Brown, he takes centre stage in what could well be one of the last truly defining roles of his long career. For this is a film that doesn't just play on Caine's iconic tough guy status, it has something profoundly dark, disturbing yet indeed hopeful to say about the society we're living in, without ever entirely succumbing to sensationalism.
Caine is quiet, poised and at times truly heartbreaking as the eponymous self-styled vigilante; this is as real and stripped down as you're likely to see him, a widower with very little left to live for who decides to take a stand as a point of honour. Sure, the fact he's an ex-Marine is a convenience the majority of pensioners in his position wouldn't have, but it's forgivable; despite the fact Harry displays moments of iconic 'badass', he's also as weak and vulnerable as you'd expect and Caine lets the violence and anger play around him quite brilliantly, while still stealing the show; rarely are you likely to root for a man who uses lawless ends to justify the means. It's clear director Daniel Barber - who films everything with a soulless, depressing hue and always strives to maintain a sense of realism very well - wants us to absolve Harry, yet its not quite that simple. Emily Mortimer's conflicted, upper class police officer (though bordering on hackneyed) straddles the line well between what is right and what is deserved, matching Caine with a poised performance. Barber's bias tips perhaps too far in making Ben 'Plan B' Drew's vicious thug Noel so unremittingly evil though - as good as Drew is in creating such a loathsome individual, as much as I'm sure sadly such monsters exist, there's little ambiguity to challenge Harry's actions which, in reality, there would be - nor is much sympathy gained with Noel's gang either, though Barber tries. He too wants us to find the police a largely useless entity, which also isn't entirely fair, though post-last summers riots the previously OTT gang war climax is harder to cast off as unrealistic, with much of the movie's polemic growing more relevant by the day. Yet it's thankfully no mere sermon - Barber drips this in ominous, foreboding atmosphere and shoots it with numerous achingly tense moments (the pinnacle being Harry's excruciating trip into a depraved drug den).
It's an important film then, Harry Brown, and not one that gives into the sensationalism it so easily could have. Michael Caine provides a performance he can rank up there with his best, both ruthless and desperately sad as a man pushed to breaking point - flanked by a very solid cast who play their parts well. And if it goes out of its way to make a strong point about the depravity of a crime-fuelled underclass we're doing too little about, it never forgets to tell a story whilst making us think. One you won't forget in a hurry, and nor should you.