Get Carter a Zimmer frame
With this role, Sir Michael of Caine gives the Jason Stathams of this world an object lesson in how to grow old like a badass.
Harry Brown lives in a South London housing block, possibly even the same one attacked by aliens earlier this month, that is overrun by gangs of kids who openly sell drugs and will flash a gun at anyone who looks at them wrong. Every day he goes to visit his rapidly fading wife at the hospital, then has a pint and a game of chess with his only friend Len. The day he buries his wife, Len tells Harry that he’s been getting grief from these kids on the estate and has taken to carrying a bayonet “for protection”. Of course, the next day Harry has two police at his door telling him that Len has been murdered and, since he was the one who brought the bayonet, the kids that did it would probably get off on a self-defence plea. So what do we have? We have a proud old man who has recently buried the love of his life and has been afraid to walk in certain parts of his estate because of the vicious little shits; the same proud old man being a former Royal Marine (or “hard bastard”) who served in Ulster at the height of The Troubles (“double hard bastard”), and whose only friend was just murdered by these same vicious little shits. Add all that up and the result is some righteous vengeance.
Cue the most tense and icky and downright unsettling sequence in the whole movie: Harry buys a gun from a smackhead. I was starting to feel itchy just watching this scene. Sean Harris as Stretch and Joseph Gilgun as his associate Kenneth go from darkly comical to scary as hell in a heartbeat. This would be a good time to mention the excellent work done by the make-up and effects departments in this flick. They probably don’t get a mention as often as they deserve – usually the better they are the less you notice them – but there is some stellar stuff on display throughought the movie.
Watching the later seasons of The Wire, one concept propagated amongst all David Simon’s institutions – the police, City Hall, even the gangsters – was the idea of “the truth is what we say it is; our agenda is what matters”. Well the police in Harry Brown as embodied by Chief Superintendant Childs buy this philosophy whole-heartedly. In fact, the man could be Deputy Rawls himself, only with better manners. I expect it of politicians (sorry for swearing) but the idea that the people charged with protecting us could behave this way is deeply troubling to me. The lone dissenting voice is Emily Mortimer’s Inspector Frampton who has picked up the clues and knows that old Harry is up to no good but has been hamstrung by her superiors and, like Harry, has to take matters in to her own hands. It is a nice bit of thematic symmetry that isn’t played too heavy-handed.
Rapper, soul singer and sometime Top 40-botherer Plan B (or Ben Drew as his mummy calls him) puts in a convincingly sleazy performance as the leader of the vicious little shits – a truly vile ball of hate who would kill you as soon as soon as look at you. He also contributes a cracking end credits song, by the way; the first baddy to take that honour since Jerry Reid sang The Ballad Of Gator McClusky*. The rest of the cast all do good work, particularly Mortimer, and Liam Cunningham brings his usual understated charisma to the small but pivotal role of Sid the pub landlord. And then of course there’s Caine. What can I say? He’s still got it.
There are a few logic gaps towards the climax (how did they all get through the riot lines?) and the final twist is shockingly convenient, but all involved do their best to sell it. Like Kill List the violence in Harry Brown is suddenly brutal and scarily matter-of-fact. Those of a sensitive nature might want to steer clear. If you can take it though, it is worth your time.
*I may be wrong. In fact, I probably am, but I just really wanted to mention Jerry Reid. And yes, I know that was the opening theme, not the end credits.