Harry Brown - Blu-ray Review

'you cannot imagine the character working as well without Caine here. There simply is no alternative available'

There was once a widely circulated opinion that British films could be categorised by how they presented fair old Blighty. Largely (indeed, perhaps exclusively) films from just a few years prior look at our country as either being 'fairly affluent' down South, or 'pretty grim' up North. It happens to be a view I subscribe to. You only need to look at films such as Notting Hill, The Full Monty or, well anything by Ken Loach actually, to see that the rather flippant theory has some chutzpah. Thank your chosen deity then for films like Harry Brown which gives Britain a pretty merciless kicking before concluding that actually, things aren't particularly great whatever your geographic location.

Starting with a direct riff on the chaotic and gut-wrenching opening chase sequence from NARC, Harry Brown sets its stall out early: it isn't messing around, it isn't pulling its punches and it certainly isn't a film about affluence. Living in a fairly derelict block of flats our titular protagonist (Michael Caine) is a pensioner with problems. His wife has just died, his best friend has been murdered by a gang of gun-toting hoodies and two inept police officers (Emily Mortimer and Charlie Creed-Miles) keep showing up and asking inconsequential questions. Lucky then that old Harry's got an idea. Using his ex-marine training Harry sets out to stick it to the 'yoofs' and teach the police how things are done around here.

Watching Caine do this is compelling. Director Daniel Barber is keen to keep us in reality and Caine doesn't so much stride as shuffle around the tortured estate not always hitting his mark or staying one step ahead of the gang led by the truly terrifying Noel Winters, who one wouldn't fancy meeting in a graffitied subway on a dark night. But Caine is Caine and his mere presence pulls you into the film and makes you care about Harry and what he's doing. Whether he's sifting through a box of memories at home or shooting a drug dealer in the gut and watching it bleed, Caine is the type of person who can pull it off and it is one of those rare roles where you cannot imagine the character working as well without him here. There simply is no alternative available.

The message of the film too is largely successful. Barber wants us to be scared of the direction 'broken Britain' is heading and as long as you buy in to Harry Brown's depiction of society today, you will be scared. As we approach a conclusion where no one is safe, all but the most isolated of individuals will recognise areas of the chaotic ping pong between police and hoodies; whether they are remembering watching the footage of the Bradford race riots of a few years ago or something they saw out of the window yesterday, there is unfortunately real potential on our streets for the kind of things Harry Brown presents full on.

Where it's not so successful is in its polarised depictions of the groups on show here. Harry's friend is ultimately killed by his own sword but is never criticised for wielding it, Creed-Miles' character obviously has a checkered past with the estate including some policing success but for Barber's purpose he has to be the bungling, bigoted fool on every occasion. Perhaps most worrying is how the youth of today is presented. Granted Harry Brown needs some malice for it to work and, as stated above, no one can deny characters such as those here do roam our streets but really, is everyone beyond redemption? The only character hinted at as having a smidgen of justification for his actions is Marky (Skins' Jack O'Connell, again on fine form) and even that is only very briefly discussed. Barber's is a world completely devoid of optimism and I'm not quite ready to buy into that school of thought just yet.

There are other problems here such as Iain Glen turning in another 'lets ham it up so much I need a drop of mustard' performance but there's very little capable of detracting from Michael Caine on top form in a brave slice of ambiguously located British cinema.

Look further...

'an interesting, and contemporarily relevant, thriller that has some good action and very tense moments' - Good Film Guide (Matt Wheeldon), 6/10


  1. This movie was pretty awesome. It reminded me a lot of Get Carter since it had Caine, but it still shows enough good violence, and heart without going too far over the edge.

  2. Yup, I think that's exactly right. There was just enough of every element for me to make it interesting, entertaining and challenging.