Michael Caine rules all. This film doesn’t.
There’s a throwaway scene in Airheads where Brendan Frasier and Steve Buscemi ask a wannabe record producer about who would win in a fight between Motorhead bassist/lead singer Lemmy Kilmster and God. It is a trick question, apparently because “Lemmy is God.” There are only a handful of people who you could substitute in that question; Michael Caine is one of them. No matter how good or bad a film is, Caine always manages to be terrific. Even in stinkers like the remake of Get Carter and Bewitched Caine still manages to always maintain his credibility. And that’s the case with Harry Brown, a revenge thriller that tackles more than it can despite a running time barely over 90 minutes.
Harry Brown (Michael Caine) is a retiree and a recent widower. With his neighborhood filled with degenerates and drug dealers, and his best friend dead from the violence, Brown decides to take matters into his own hands and find the killer himself. While Harry begins his quest for justice, a Detective (Emily Mortimer) is on the trail of the killer herself. Both of their investigations come to a violent conclusion. But what makes Harry Brown interesting is what is explored with Harry; everything else is superfluous.
Brown is an interesting character and Caine is in top form for the role. It’s a similar role as his earlier indie film Is Anybody There? in that he’s truly embracing his status as an elder statesmen; Caine has hit the point in his career where he’s covered the gambit of roles and looks like the senior citizen he is. Brown is a dignified old man who has a dark past in the Royal Marines who left it behind for a family life. All alone now, he just has his chess games and the memories of his past life now. But he also has the veteran craftsmanship of a man who’s done bad things and has no qualms with it. When he finally goes down the dark road he never thought he’d go down again it’s one that requires him to use his wits and experience as opposed to youthful vigor and athleticism. When the film gets there it’s an evocative thriller, and if the film was only about Harry’s story it’d be much better.
The problem is that the story of the Detective Alice feels shoe-horned into it. Given a much more significant portion of the film’s running time then it really needs, there’s plenty of back story provided that really isn’t needed. This is Brown’s story and Alice doesn’t need to be a big part of it. The film is stripped down to its bare essentials at slightly over 90 minutes and the time given to her could be better spent. It’s padding on a film already cut to the bone in terms of story-telling.
Harry Brown is a solid film but has significant flaws. Calling it the British Gran Torino is a bit of a misnomer because that film is more of a character drama and this one is more of a crime film. Both feature veteran actors in good, meaty roles. But Harry Brown is more akin to a Death Wish sequel but with Michael Caine in the Charles Bronson role.
Director: Daniel Barber
Notable Cast: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer
Writer(s): Gary Young