“Harry Brown” is one of those films so dependent on the main
character that it can’t possibly work unless you want to look at him for
practically the entire movie. But
Michael Caine, with 147 films to his credit, is the kind of actor who can
carry it. And with a certain
Harry Brown is a
pensioner who lives in a crummy flat in a blighted neighborhood.
He looks out his window and sees the drug gangs on the street, with
their casual sneers and sudden violence and their starkly wide-open
transactions. Harry tries to
ignore them. He walks down to
the hospital every day, to hold his wife’s hand, and speak tenderly to
her, though she’s comatose and doesn’t appear to even recognize his
gentle presence. Then he walks
to the pub to have a pint and play chess with his only friend, Leonard
(David Bradley), another lonely pensioner.
The drug dealers brazenly use the pub as another base of operation,
shamelessly transacting in plain sight, which the owner/bartender doesn’t
say anything about, and neither do Harry and Leonard.
They’re scared, even intimidated, and they quietly fret about their
safety, but feel there’s nothing they can do.
Harry says he has encountered the violent before, in his stint with
the military in
, where he dealt with the Irish resistance.
But what bothers him about these hoodlums is that they are outlaws
merely for their own profit, not some noble purpose, and violent without
cause; merely for the sport of it.
One day Leonard, obviously agitated, shows up with an old military
bayonet under his coat, finally admitting to Harry that it’s for
“protection.” It seems he
was robbed, then beaten and ridiculed, by the local thugs, and he says
he’s not going to take it any more. Harry
tries to encourage him to go to the police, but Leonard claims he already
has, and it hasn’t done any good. Harry,
meanwhile, receives the phone call in the middle of the night that he’d
been dreading----his beloved wife is gone---and he quietly buries her beside
their daughter, who died when she was only a child.
Then Harry learns that Leonard has been brutally beaten and murdered.
And after Harry himself is assaulted on the street, something within
him snaps. Harry, the
ex-Marine, reverts to his combat training, successfully defending himself
from the strung-out, junkie, would-be robber.
(Caine himself saw combat in
, which makes this plot turn more believable.)
Enter Detective Alice Frampton (nicely underplayed by Emily
Mortimer), who quietly and carefully inquires about Harry’s friend
Leonard, and also about the mystery of the corpse under the bridge, and the
mysterious fire at the local meth lab.
Harry feigns diffidence, but her intuition is humming, anyway.
Her supervisor at the station, however, ridicules her detective
skills, assuring her that she’s on the wrong track, looking at the wrong
people, and they need for her to go with them on a night raid in the
tormented neighborhood, which literally sets off a riot.
There’s no romance here, other than the vestigial loyalty to a
relationship now devoid of life. There’s
no sense of humor, because this is no laughing matter.
But there’s something compelling about the septuagenarian
vigilante. We root for him, not
because he’s acting on principle, but because he’s succumbing to his
passions, even if misplaced.
And all of us senior citizens shuffle out the theater unable to
publicly applaud such vengeful indulgence, but somewhere in the dark
recesses of our still-feisty old persona, quietly revel in the idea that the
old guy showed ‘em what for, and was a force to be reckoned with.
Give ‘em hell, Harry.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace