I went to this film on a complete whim, knowing nothing but two things, a.) it starred Michael Caine, an actor I am neutral on at best, sometimes I like him, others not so much, and b.) I had seen one photo of him wielding a gun. I knew nothing of the plot, so anything could have happened and I would have no preconceived notions of what to expect. This is a fairly uncommon place to be in for me, a.) as a film writer, and b.) simply due to the volume of information on films available. I am happy to report, I came away pleasantly surprised with the results.
Harry Brown is a drama/thriller by a relatively new director, Daniel Barber, from a screenplay penned by Gary Young. Neither of these names are likely to mean much to audiences here in the states (up to this point). Brown stars the aforementioned Caine as the titular Harry, a widower who lives in a slum akin to those Jay-Z often raps about. These projects are rampant with crime and drugs, both of which come into Harry’s life in not-so-pleasant circumstances. I.E., he’s not the one willingly doing blow, brandishing weapons and breaking into people’s homes – at least at first. However, when a crime is committed on Harry’s best friend Lenny, Lenny attempts to strike back with vengeance on a crew of thugs who are the suspected perpetrators. The results are less than fruitful as Lenny is murdered.
Thus begins an investigation into Lenny’s mysterious death and a deeper look at the crimes that the group of hoodlums have routinely become known for. Emily Mortimer plays Alice Frampton, a new to the precinct law woman who decides she wants to investigate the death with more aplomb than the usual detective would apply. Normally, its take a report and let the locals sort it out, but her curiosity is piqued for reasons unexplained. Meanwhile, driven by loneliness and revenge, Harry begins his own sort of investigation to bring his own brand of justice to the passing of his buddy. Thus begins a sort of cat and mouse game between the thugs, Harry, Frampton and even others that will be revealed with a viewing.
As Harry descends deeper into his moral self and calls upon his past as a war hero, a complicated moral quandary comes to the fore front that will be revealed in time. An intriguing plot unravels on the screen in a rather unusual way. Caine’s Harry takes on a form of Liam Neeson-lite from last year’s Taken. Though maybe not highly plausible, the circumstances and actions in the film are still mired in enough realism to keep the viewer on edge. Barber has some good locations to shoot in and Young’s script delivers a nice mix of both the dramatic and thrilling. The climax will likely leave you talking about the film afterward. Brown may not the most rewarding film you will see all year, but it will likely be near the top in originality. The mix of young (the thugs, gangsterism) and old (Caine, revenge) blend nicely into a cohesive whole. It’s a close call on the final verdict, but I give Harry Brown a fairly solid recommendation as mature adult entertainment.