Harry Brown is an uncompromising movie that grabbed me by the throat. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t.
I was browsing in the library for a movie for the weekend and chose it for veteran British actor Michael Caine. He is well-known in America as the Butler from Batman, but also stars or features in over fifty movies that the Williamsburg Regional Library owns. His performance as British pensioner Harry Brown is stunning.
The movie opens with shaky scenes filmed on a phone. Drug-addled youths pursue and appear to kill a young mother pushing her child in a stroller through a park on a sunny morning. Then the scene cuts to the apparent peace of everyman Harry Brown’s ordinary life. We see him as he rises in the morning and goes about his daily business in his small and shabby council flat. He spends his quiet days visiting his dying wife in hospital, while his own emphysema slows him down. He walks to the hospital as he is not nearly rich enough to own a car. We know he wants to take a short cut through a pedestrian tunnel under a busy road, but the tunnel is the hangout for the youths from the first scene.
Harry quietly endures the torments of his small life until his only friend, his pub companion, chess playing Leonard, is murdered by the tunnel youths. We know that Harry Brown used to be in the Marines but those days are long past. He is old and ill and generally inoffensive. But the criminals underestimate him and fail to realize that they are taking on someone who has nothing to lose.
This may sound like the plot of a predictable action movie, but Harry Brown is more. It is certainly violent – disturbingly so, but there is nothing cartoonish about the violence and Harry’s character and ordinary decency are revealed by the understated but breathtaking acting of Michael Caine.
Harry Brown is not a movie that is easy to watch in several senses. The plot moves forward unrelentingly. If you miss a development, you miss it. The violence is gritty and extremely disturbing. And the conclusions it draws about the role of the police and vigilantism are definitely controversial. Comparisons to Gran Torino are inevitable and you will have to draw your own conclusions about which movie you agree with. Overall, this is one of the most intense, gripping movies that I have ever seen, that has stayed with me even when I prefer to forget it.
Check the WRL catalog for Harry Brown