Harry Brown (2009)

Starring Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Ben Drew, Charlie Creed-Miles, David Bradley, Jack O’Connell, Liam Cunningham

Directed by Daniel Barber

Expectations: High. Michael Caine? Revenge? Any questions?

Given Michael Caine’s revenge film pedigree, I was thoroughly excited to see him take one last stab at injustice. Harry Brown promised to fit that bill, but it surprised me by being a quiet film for the most part and fairly reserved in comparison to typical genre entries. The fact that Caine is a seventy-seven-year-old man contributes greatly to this tone, and realistically, I probably shouldn’t have built it up as much as I did. I was disappointed in the film, but this can be tied almost directly to my high expectations, so be wary of such things if you do choose to view this.

Harry Brown is a retiree and a widower, living in a small apartment complex terrorized by a group of rebellious, violent youths. His friend Leonard is at the breaking point and carries a bayonet along with him, in case any shit goes down. As you might expect, it hits the fan in the first act and Leonard is killed with his own blade. This sends Harry into a fit. He’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore so he sets out on his vendetta to murder those responsible for his friend’s death. It’s all standard revenge fare that you’ve seen a thousand times or more, but there’s just something about watching a previously mild-mannered character turn to the dark side and rip criminals new assholes.

Once the revenge starts, the film picks up a bit in terms of entertainment, but it’s still a very slow-paced, reserved film. I generally try and stay away from trailers these days, as they have a nasty habit of tweaking my expectations by making the film look more action-packed than it is. I had the misfortune of seeing the Harry Brown trailer which did just this, but funnily enough, I probably would have never even heard of this movie without the trailer. It’s a good catch 22 that leaves me with a chicken/egg conundrum that I’m not willing to waste too much time on figuring out. Just know that if you saw the trailer and you’re expecting explosions, you’ll get ’em, there’s just lots of metered downtime in between them.

So if you’re still reading you’re probably wondering how satisfying the revenge scenes are. Is Michael Caine a badass senior or does he need to put some new tennis balls on his walker? It’s a bit of both here, but it’s mostly good stuff. I really, really liked the scene when he ventures into the lair of these two drug dealer kids and completely fuckin’ wastes them without remorse. They set him up as a retired Marine so it’s all pretty believable, but I still questioned the fact that if he did this sort of thing fifty years ago, is he really still this good? I doubt it, but I’m willing to forgive holes like this to see quality revenge scenes. Michael Caine’s performance is great also, capturing the sorrow-filled life of a widower and the hardened ex-Marine badass all-in-one. Realistically though, his performance is nothing to get too worked up over, because he’s Michael Caine and at this point in his career, I’m not going to be surprised that he puts on a good show and gush about it. He’s Michael Caine, I expect it to be good. He plays a great Michael Caine in this and if you like him, you won’t be disappointed.

The direction from Daniel Barber is good, but a bit laid back for my tastes. It works for the film and plays into the age of the main character, but coupled with the slow, pulsating score, I think a lot of people are going to get bored and sleepy pretty quick. One of his worst choices though is his use of the bane of my existence, CG blood. I hate the stuff and it rarely looks any good. It doesn’t fare any better here, although the blood isn’t shown very much, and when it is it’s in shadows, so if you’re not super-obsessive over this kind of stuff like me, you probably won’t even notice. I can realize the benefits to shooting schedules and budgets by using it, but I don’t have to like it.

Overall I liked the movie, and it is well made, but it just didn’t have enough to push it over the edge and make me love it. Michael Caine is great as always, as are the rest of the cast. I think a lot of people are going to like this one, but there’s a big chance you might fall asleep along the way.