Sunday, May 16, 2010

Review: Harry Brown

Harry Brown
Dir. Daniel Barber
Year: 2010
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 103mins

As the opening credits tell us, "Michael Caine is Harry Brown”. In response, here are some things that I think Harry Brown is. Repugnant. Offensive. Vile. Repulsive. Awful. Retched. Shameful. And most of all, just plain old bad. Unlike the similarly themed Australian film The Horseman, Harry Brown celebrates the ultra-violence it is thrusting upon audiences and thrives on it rather than condemns it and that is a disturbing thing.

Set predominantly around a lower-class British housing estate (you know the ones, big gray slabs with holes cut out for windows and a stove for making a hot watery substance that can scarcely be called "tea"), Harry Brown stars Michael Caine as a recently widowed senior citizen who decides to enact his own brand of justice on the hooligan youth culture that terrorises the estate and who sent his best friend Leonard (David Bradley) to a violent grave.

Reading that description may not sound like anything terribly offensive, sure, but once the surface is scratched (scratched as thinly as the plot will allow) there is a disturbing hypocrisy in its attitudes towards violence. At once decrying the violence that the thuggish youths act out - stabbings, bashings, fires and other antisocial behaviour - and cheering on the violence that the elder Harry Brown unleashes - shootings, bashings, fires and other antisocial behaviour - there is a distinctly unpleasant aura around the proceedings. Increasingly grotesque and repugnant in its imagery, Harry Brown director Daniel Barber and screenwriter Gary Young are simply having fun at the idea of this old gent brutally murdering thugs. Graphic blood splatters and torrents of blood overflow from each of Harry Brown's victims without even the slightest hint that we're meant to be condemning him for what he is doing. He was in Vietnam, you see, so I guess he's allowed?

The movie’s attitude towards the quote unquote youth of today is awfully narrow-minded. Even when one of the teenage louts is clearly shown being the victim of sexual abuse and rape it barely rates a mention. This lack of character development is detrimental. The aforementioned Vietnam reference is all that Barber gives us to somehow understand how Harry Brown could commit these acts. And of the gang’s leader Ben Drew sprouts phrases like “fucking cunt” a lot and that’s about it.

That I haven’t mentioned the acting or the crafts is a show of how much I really detested the movie’s themes, but if you really would like to know then I shall inform. Caine is competent in the lead role, but it never leaves the realm of “MICHAEL CAINE KILLING HOOLIGANS”. Emily Mortimer, the only other actor with a recognisable face, plays a police detective but is ineffective, plain and uninteresting, much like the drab visuals. I hardly expect a movie such as this to replicate the bright colours and extravagant visual splendour of Quentin Tarantino’s own revenge thriller Kill Bill, but if you’re going to present your tale as one of open revenge lust then the grungy look that this movie has is all wrong. It reminded me of Australian druggie drama West in its ability to be as equally repellent to look at as it is to think about.

In terms of British crime tales, The Bill this ain't, but nor does it present a truly compelling tale of a man whose only option is revenge. In the end the film's abhorrent politics had my mind doing back flips long before the film's final scene, a moment that is so hopelessly clueless that it just compounds the issues at. As Harry Brown walks through the once-dangerous underground tunnel that was the scene of so much violence, are we now supposed to think that it is filled with light, happiness, promises and rainbows? That's what that film would have us believe and therein lays more problems. Barely scratching the surface of a very real and pertinent issue, but using it as the backbone for a grubby slaughter fest. Mr Brown is having his cake and eating it too. This film wants to pretend to be “important” and “about something” but is then more interested in filling the screen with icky violence than telling a story about a man truly haunted by violence. Even the movie poster is all but telling audiences "Michael Caine kicks arse!" It is all incredibly unappealing. F


Cal said...

I couldn't agree more Glenn. It's one of the most poltically abhorrent films I've ever seen, and sadly reflective of Britain's tabloid press getting ever more right-wing.

Only positive = poster?

Simon said...

Such a shame, I was really looking forward to this, too.

I hear that the sexual abuse/rape thing was involving some dude from the new Skins. That could be recognizable.

So there's that.

Jorge Rodrigues said...

Thank you Glenn. I've been reading such stellar reviews to this and I've been thinking... Am I the only one who doesn't like this movie at all? Is there something wrong with me?

But alas, someone agrees with me. I don't think Michael Caine is bad in the movie, it's just that the movie and its plotlines are so horrendous... He just couldn't save it.

:) Great review as per usual.