Monday, September 19, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #19 Harry Brown

Movie: Harry Brown (2009)
Budget: $7.3 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Format: Netflix streaming

I bet you thought I was done with these reviews, huh? Yet another long-term blogging project felled half-way through by my own laziness and disinterest? Yes, well, that was (and is) definitely a possibility, but here we go...back at it for the final 14 reviews.

The "revenge" thriller is a genre best served cold, and the British-produced Harry Brown dishes it out with icy efficiency. The venerable Michael Caine plays the titular character and brings a necessary gravitas to a genre that all too often devolves into pointless and gory schadenfreude. While two very different movies, think Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino," not Kevin Bacon's awful "Death Sentence."

Caine plays a quiet, aging widower who lives alone in his low-rent flat in a devolving neighborhood somewhere in England. It's a bleak community where drugs and thugs have ruined whatever calm may have previously existed there. A stunning open scene, one filmed in "found footage" format, absolutely terrifies as we see a random act of cruel, mindless, drug-fueled violence. It's a powerfully dark, one-off scene that has no specific relationship to the plot other than to set the mood---and what a mood it sets. The neighborhood hoodlums are like real-life versions of A Clockwork Orange's droogs. When Caine's best (and only) friend is killed by the local hooligans, Harry Brown takes matters into his own hands...etc, etc, etc.

The main thing separating Harry Brown from other vigilante justice dramas is the performance of Caine. Often criticized as being an overexposed actor, most notably during his prolific run in the 1980's (hello, Jaws 4!), Caine, now 78-years-old, exudes the vulnerability that can come only with age. His sagging, reddened eyes easily convey a broken man with nothing more to live for than the hope of justice for his friend, and a possible return to serenity for his neighborhood. Now, all of that said, Harry Brown isn't exactly a remarkable film. The revenge thriller genre is, in general, simplistic by nature...and Harry Brown doesn't remake the rules. And while Caine's somber performance is indeed compelling, the first half of the movie drags on for too long as they attempt to establish his character and motives. There's also a cliched twist at the end which seems tacked on and out of place for an it-could-really-happen type movie.

Of additional interest, however, is the final act in which a riot breaks out due to overzealous police action. Using the police brutality as a proxy for working class frustration, the riots are eerily reminiscent of this summer's U.K. riots.

If you're a fan of vigilante movies, Harry Brown is a satisfying spin around the block by virtue of not eroticising its own violence and because of a strong performance from Caine. Me? Not so much a fan of the genre, but I recognize Harry Brown to be better than the average "you done me wrong, so now I do you some wrong" thrillers.

Kraig's Rating: 6/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season
Movie #8: World's Greatest Dad
Movie #9: Hobo With a Shotgun
Movie #10: The Lincoln Lawyer
Movie #11: Stake Land
Movie #12: Horrible Bosses
Movie #13: Brooklyn's Finest
Movie #14: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Movie #15: Devil
Movie #16: The Vicious Kind
Movie #17: Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Movie #18: 13 Assassins


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