Sunday, May 2, 2010
Hot for Harry Brown
Harry Brown, a story about a "vigilante pensioner" (as one character puts it), is a damn dark little crime flick with strong characterization and stellar performances up and down the credit roll. Although it's been compared to Michael Winner's Death Wish, such a comparison shows little appreciation for its strengths.
The film is much stronger and grimmer than its marketing campaign suggests. In fact, it's tonally similar to aspects of Gasper Noe's I Stand Alone and Irreversible. That's probably why I warmed to it so quickly.
Yes, it's about a bloke done wrong who procures a gun and uses it to eliminate those whose actions have deemed them unworthy of hosting a beating heart. That bloke is Michael Caine. He has just lost his wife and best friend. The animals who patrol the estate where he lives have created a hell on earth for its residents. Caine must do things like avoid the local subway tunnel (the type of place where Monica Bellucci was raped in Irreversible) because these creatures inhabit it like dirty, psychopathic trolls. These miscreants think nothing of offing a frail elderly man or raping a woman passing by with her boyfriend.
Cinematographer Martin Ruhe and director Daniel Barber have created a work of dark, nasty, scary art. Helped considerably by Michael Caine, an actor of incredible authority, Harry Brown rises way above genre expectations. It is consistently gripping and fascinating, but isn't handicapped by ADD-ridden camera tricks and editing. It is paced exactly as Caine's character is paced. When shit happens, it happens as a direct outgrowth of Caine's mental process.
The film dedicates a little screen time to a powerful indictment of the sociopathic mind where various suspects in a murder are questioned by police. The camera cuts between the interviews as they deny wrongdoing and verbally assault the police. This sequence is intense and terribly disturbing for what it says about a culture and for what it doesn't need to say directly about the thanklessness of police work.
The outrage Harry Brown feels doesn't feel like the contrived outrage of Death Wish -- still a good film, nonetheless, but a textbook example of audience manipulation and rampant implausibility; Harry Brown's outrage feels like the pain of a friend.
This vigilante pensioner is a force of nature, and because we get to know him, his actions are both tragic and victorious.