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Harry Brown
UKScreen Rating:

Harry Brown – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Harry (Caine) is an ageing war veteran who lives in a sprawling, run-down, high-rise council estate.
When we first meet him, his walk – through an underpass – to visit his dying wife in hospital – is constantly blocked by a group of tearaway teens, who intimidate their neighbours – old and young alike.
After his wife dies, there is little to look forward to in Harry’s life, other than a trip down to the local pub to share a moan about the gangs with his only friend, Leonard (Bradley), over a pint and a game of chess.
When Leonard is found stabbed to death after a row with the teenagers, Harry has no doubt who is to blame and grows increasingly frustrated at the inability of the police to pin down a suspect.
So – recalling his military training, the doddery pensioner turns vigilante to bring to justice those he believes are to blame.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Director Daniel Barber might not be the obvious choice to helm a film centred on Sir Michael Caine, but an Oscar nomination for his recent short film The Tonto Woman was enough to convince BBC Films that he was the man for the job.
He was understandably a little wary about having to tell the screen legend what to do on his first attempt at directing a feature, but Sir Michael is known to be gracious towards young film-makers and it pays off here.
On the whole, Barber’s handling of the feature is assured – the characters are introduced, their backgrounds uncovered and their motivations revealed at a sensible pace.
The film doesn’t lag and never feels rushed.
Caine’s central performance dominates all around it and almost feels out of place, above a sea of mediocre performances from his co-stars. They’re not bad, as such, just stereo-typed; the police officers would be more comfortable in an episode of The Bill and the cantankerous kids are straight out of central casting.
But the biggest failure of the film is its distance from reality. It just doesn’t feel right that a single elderly man could cause such chaos – that the police would be so incompetent or that there would be so few officers assigned to such a huge case – that when the police finally turn up at the estate en masse, hundreds more angry youths appear out of nowhere, whereas in reality, most residents would be on the side of the police – and worst of all, a key plot twist towards the end depends on the most unlikely relationship between two characters that could not possibly have been unknown to the people it affects.
It genuinely provides a frightening, pessimistic view of the lot of the working classes, but too much of it just doesn’t ring true, so it doesn’t feel like we can learn any lessons.
It’s a valiant debut from Barber and a reliable turn from Caine, which looks impressive but doesn’t convince as much as it could have done.

Opens nationwide 11th November 2009

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