At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Harry Brown “09”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Vigilante Action-Thriller/ Stars: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Charlie Creed Miles, David Bradley, Plan B, Sean Harris, Jack O’Connell, Jamie Downey, Lee Oakes, Joe Gilgun, Liam Cunningham, Iain Glen, Klariza Clayton, Liz Daniels, Orla O’Rourke, Chris Wilson, Ashley McGuire/Runtime: 103 minutes

I think it is safe to say right off the bat in this review that film helmer Daniel Barber’s slice of cinematic pie from 2009 known as Harry Brown is a film that is one of the better modern day examples of that distinct subgenre of film known as the vigilante film that I have seen in a while. Indeed not only does this slice of cinematic pie comprehend this type of film better than a lot of other movies, but just as crucially it showcases the pathos, action beats, dramatic elements, internal agony, and external brutality of its main character and the world he lives in extremely well whilst it manages to construct for audiences a locale where you can not only appreciate but even cheer on the main character as he engages in the brutal acts of vigilantism that he does. Most crucial of all however is how this film is able to locate, stay steady along, and construct its narrative on that narrow line which distinguishes a person’s desire to let the police do their job when a tragedy hits and a person finding a part of themselves pleading with them to take matters into their own hands and do their part to take care of individuals who would dare harm, terrorize, and/or menace the “good people” in this world by any means necessary. Thus although it isn’t wrong to say that this is a film which permits those who watch it to applaud the acts of violence being done since they’re being done as a way to combat violence, the movie ultimately works on the level that it does because it also allows us to see the fallout these violent acts can have on a town, the criminals engaged in it, the law trying to stop it, and a man torn between trusting the law to do its job and an overwhelming desire to get the job done on his terms.

The plot is as follows: The movie tells the story of a man by the name of Harry Brown. Mr. Brown we are able to learn is a gentlemen of a higher year count than most and is also an ex-member of the Royal Marines who, as the film is getting underway, has had to receive the bad news that his wife who has been bedridden in the hospital due to an unspecified sickness has passed on. To that end, we see our hero bury her right next to their also-deceased daughter thus leaving him with only the friendship of a dear friend named Leonard to keep him going through days that seem to be made of equal parts drinking and chess matches at their nearby pub. Or at least that would be if our hero didn’t live in a part of London where gang violence ran absolutely rampant. A fact that I guess it is worth mentioning soon hits way too close to home when his pal is attacked by a group of hooligans and tragically doesn’t live to talk about it. However when, following a conversation with a police inspector, he feels that the law is not able or willing to take back their streets from such visceral brutality, our hero decides to handle things himself. Thus, with the aid of his training and several guns he manages to acquire, we witness as Harry begins to bring about his own form of visceral justice to the hooligans who not only murdered his friend, but who also take great delight in making his neighborhood Hell on Earth in every sense of the word.

Now I’m just going to come right out and say it: this slice of cinematic pie manages to check every box necessary to be a wonderful addition to the legacy of vigilantism in cinema which is quite impressive in its own right since this particular realm of movie magic is often hard to pull off due to everything that a slice of cinematic pie like might utilize in order to get its point across. With that in mind, I personally feel that Harry Brown is easily one of the best of this subgenre of film in quite a while….or at least since 1974’s Death Wish and the 1989 Batman since the first is typically seen as the pinnacle of this genre and the latter is a film that, although a comic book film, is still able to showcase that it has its roots in this kind of film especially in the visuals department. Indeed this film not only works in the ominous, moody, and visceral world of which it is a part very well, but the majority of the ingredients it operates with are also quite convincing as well. Suffice it to say this is a novel film that doesn’t seem like a slice of cinematic pie; rather this feels like we are watching a documentary of something that has actually happened involving real locations and real people and you, the viewer are merely an omnipresent observer of these truly visceral and at times quite terrifying things that are going on. Indeed the fact that this film is as dark and unnerving yet also seemingly so real that it is just says leaps and bounds about well-constructed and performed this slice of cinematic pie at the end of the day really truly is.

Now side by side with just how effective this distinct slice of cinematic pie is would be a movie that is most assuredly not for those with a weak stomach. Indeed it is not the easiest movie in the world to make it through due in no small part to the potent level of violence on display, but besides that it is also the general mood of the film right down to the unnerving pathos just under the surface, an omission of decency, and an ensuing tidal wave of tragedy and ugliness that quickly follows which are the main culprit. Thankfully, these elements are made a tad bit more palpable than they would otherwise thanks in large part to the wonderful work done in this by screen icon Michael Caine as the titular character. Indeed Caine in that wonderful way that he does so well manages to get us all invested both in the man and his situation through a performance that is equal parts visceral yet also emotional in the best ways possible. Not only that, but Caine really does a wonderful job at operating with the highs and lows of Harry’s life in a way that both beautifully constructs the character, but also persuades us of the righteousness behind his more brutal choices as the film goes without once ever tossing any bit of honesty on the proverbial bonfire. Yes the agony this man goes through courtesy of losing his dearest chum, his wife whom he loves and adores and, as hinted at throughout the film, his only child do make him out to be a man who has nothing to lose. Yet, Caine’s beautiful talent for displaying this man’s immense internal agony and overwhelming sense of regret is incredibly well done and his knack for making this man who is capable of such brutality so genuinely goodhearted really helps to offset the brutal violence that occurs throughout. Indeed if anything, this slice of cinematic pie is a brilliant compare/contrast at the best and the worst that a man can be see its main hero is a good man who finds himself in a world that has decided to unjustly rob him of all that holds dear and thus decides to do something about it when he has run out of other options to consider. As such, it is this unusual coupling of an ominous and brutal world and an older, wiser, and yes sadder man that appears to be the brilliant mix for a wonderful entry in the subgenre of movie magic that is the vigilante film and as such this slice of cinematic pie turns out to be just that.

All in all I think it is safe to say that although Harry Brown might never overtake the first entry in Charles Bronson’s Death Wish franchise from 1974 as the proverbial final word in the realm of vigilante films to many a movie fan, that is not to say that this slice of cinematic pie is not deserving of any recognition whatsoever. To the contrary in fact. I say that because this film is not only that looks better from a production perspective, but is also one that is blessed with fairly good characters, not-bad performances, a beautiful vibe that is equal parts emotional and visceral, and just is more in-depth than a lot of other films in this subgenre of movie magic. Indeed the fact that this film’s set up is between a visceral and brutal gang of youthful hooligans and a genuinely goodhearted older gentleman who has nothing left to lose and has found himself stuck in this topsy turvy world is one plot angle that is actually pretty darn good for a film like this and it also doesn’t hurt that screen icon Michael Caine is the guy in the lead role and it does make for a fine performance from a man who, even in his bad movies, is still immensely enjoyable and always worth watching. Suffice it to say that if you are in the mood for something gritty, you just want to waste a couple of hours, you happen to have a fondness for vigilante films, or all of the above then give this film a try. I promise you won’t regret it. On a scale of 1-5 I give Harry Brown “09” a solid 3.5 out of 5.