Review by Nathan Samdahl (B+)
To start off this review on a strong note, as a bit of a surprise to me, Harry Brown actually may be my favorite film of the year so far. Driven by another amazing performance by Michael Caine, who like Morgan Freeman gets better with age, Harry Brown is a gritty slice-of life story set in a London slum overrun by teen violence. Similar to Matthieu Kassovitz' great film La Haine, Harry Brown provides a strong commentary on teen violence and the cyclical nature of violence, while never feeling heavy-handed. As opposed to La Haine, which tells the story from the viewpoint of three rough-and-tough youths, Harry Brown is told primarily through the eyes of Harry, an elderly man who takes it upon himself to help clean up the streets after his good friend is beaten to death by hoodlums,. While not as visually striking as Kassovitz' film, director Daniel Barber takes what could have been a very generic story and infuses it with an energy that continuously pushes the film to the brink of acceptability, keeping the audience both entertained and unsettled at all times.
In several parts, the atmosphere of the film is nearly overbearing, such as when Harry confronts two drug dealers in an attempt to purchase a weapon. In this scene, probably the most memorable of the film, Harry must deal with a drug dealer, who is a cross between a Neo-Nazi and Deadpool (which, by the way, constitutes one of the most fucked up drug dealers I've seen) , his clueless and trigger-happy counterpart and a girl who is overdosing on the couch (oh, and they're watching a porno of themselves having sex with this near-dead girl). So, while definitely not good for the whole family, this scene pushes you to the bounds of what you want to see in a film, but pulls back just when it is becoming too much, and delivers a hugely satisfying - and yes - violent climax.
Had this film been released later in the year, Michael Caine may have been nominated for his work here, which is nuanced and exciting, never stale. His drive to avenge his friend and to clean up the streets, often with little regard to himself, helps create an unique character that I'm sure any actor over the age of 60 would die to play. An old man beating up on the punk kids that harass him, this is Gran Torino, English-style. In addition to Caine, solid performances are turned in by David Bradley (Filch from the Harry Potter films), who plays Harry's friend, Ben Drew, who plays the head teen hoodlum, and by Sean Harris, who plays the aforementioned creepy drug dealer. While usually fantastic, Emily Mortimer is a bit underused here, playing the cop that struggles with the shaky morality of Harry's vigilante justice. Her character lacks the depth that she exhibited in some of her best work (i.e. Lars and the Real Girl).
This is not a film where you know exactly what's going to happen, nor where you are eager for the film to quickly proceed to its climax. Instead, every scene here is carefully crafted to pack the maximum punch. While the final scene of the film felt a bit convenient and manipulated, which is a departure from the rest of the film, the conclusion doesn't disappoint.
Should you see this film? Yes. Should you make it a priority? Yes. If you are squeamish or thought The Italian Job was violent, should you see this? No. But for what has come out this year, this is about as good as it gets. Great direction, great performances and a lot of violence. What more can you ask for?
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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