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Harry Brown (2009)

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 103 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

Inevitably, the main question that the viewer will ponder whilst watching Harry Brown will be – is this the true face of modern Britain or blatant Right Wing Hollywoodisation? The story is of Harry Brown is an ageing ex-Marine living on a London estate overrun by unruly youths. When his best friend Len is killed by a gang of local teenagers, he goes postal and sets about tracking down and killing the murderers. As the violence escalates, the riot police wade in to try and restore order, then everything kicks off.

Harry Brown tries to be kitchen sink and address the social issues of Britain’s troublesome estates but in the end it resorts to an all too obvious Daily Mail Right Wing agenda. Everyone on the estate is tarred with the same brush and are made out to be pure evil with no explanation offered as to why they are like this, except for one half-baked foster care/abuse sideline. ‘Some people are just pure evil,’ is Harry Brown’s moral, and it might sometimes be correct but it’s not universal. However ineffectual the movie is at trying to explain the problems, it does set the scene very well. The estates are suitably menacing, the blocks of flats are grey and depressing and the claustrophobia for the aged flat-dwellers is well tensed up. The police are shown to be useless at dealing with gang crime and the riots mirror those that have been seen in the UK in the past. It’s the subtleties where the atmosphere is best built, like when Harry has to choose whether to take the quicker underpass which is inhabited by gangs or the slower overground route, to get to the hospital. We’ve all been there and know we would always choose the long, safe way around.

Michael Caine is great as the angry old fella. His sense of loss and slow burning anger is handled particularly well. It’s pleasant to see realistic continuation as Harry is an unstable geriatric at the start of the film and an unstable geriatric at the end – just with a gun and a plan. The drug dealers are ridiculously over-the-top and the only way they could have been portrayed worse is if they were sexually abusing and then drowning kittens in a bath of acid. On the other hand, Harry is deified a little too much, but I suppose he has to be, for the viewer to support his blood soaked revenge mission.

After setting itself up so well with gritty realism, it all becomes a bit too Hollywood (except the police scenes which are no better than an episode of The Bill). Harry gets a few one-liners in and then everyone starts knocking each other off in a free-for-all needless bloodbath. As the film closes, the Daily Mail message prevails and tells us we just have to stick up for ourselves, murder our way out of trouble and everything will be okay. Where this message might succeed in a post-apocalyptic world or America, where everyone seems to have a gun, it remains a terribly un-British thing to do.

It's Got: A great Michael Caine performance, an authentic atmosphere.

It Needs: Better characterisation, a more subtle message


What could have been a good social commentary about what’s wrong with ‘Broken Britain’, Harry Brown comes across as too shallow and Right Wing for most modern tastes. Michael Caine is the film’s saviour with a stand out performance.