Wednesday 1 January 2020

Movie Review: Harry Brown (2009)

A vigilante thriller, Harry Brown introduces an elderly protagonist but otherwise plunders well-worn material with an overreliance on gore.

In London, pensioner and ex-Marine Harry Brown (Michael Caine) lives in a derelict estate terrorized by violent drug-dealing thugs led by Noel (Ben Drew). The gang members hang out in a nearby pedestrian underpass and do business at the pub run by Sid (Liam Cunningham). Brown's sick wife dies in hospital, then his only friend Len (David Bradley) tangles with the goons and is murdered.

Detective Inspector Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer) starts to investigate Len's killing, but her interrogations are futile. With nothing to live for Harry takes matters into his own hands. He stabs one of the gang members to repulse a mugging then infiltrates a hideout on the pretext of buying a gun and confronts two drug-addicted goons. But his real target is Noel, who will be difficult to track down.

A relatively straightforward reimagining of Death Wish and all its imitators, Harry Brown adds the original but questionable spin of a pensioner pushed to the point of not caring. Harry dusts off his military skills and goes a-killing, but he suffers from emphysema, can barely run and has to rely on some guile to compensate. This could be Bryan Mills' father now displaying his special skills, but the concept is understandably starting to fray.

Michael Caine provides the only source of depth, and conveys a sense of pain, suffering, and disenchantment with a world where criminals rule the streets. But otherwise director Daniel Barber and writer Gary Young resort to stock characters not defined beyond "soulless thug" and "police officer". Similarly no social context or perceptive commentary is provided for the milieu of anarchy in London, where youth are terrorizing a neighbourhood with no consequence.

Stylistically Barber takes his time with a few of the scenes, Brown's visit to the den of two drug-crazed criminals a gradual reveal of a horror house, including a large pot grow-op, a young woman overdosing, and no shortage of guns for sale. The grim aesthetics, pervasive vulgarity and occasional displays of spurting blood wash over the movie to create an overbearing sense of bleak nihilism.

Harry Brown is an old man forced into action, but unfortunately his quest for vengeance is an all too familiar cinematic mission.

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