HARRY BROWN (2009) SBS ONE, 9.30PM, MA15+, DRAMA
This is England’s answer to Clint Eastwood’s GranTorino. The wonderful Michael Caine smashes preconceptions about retirees by laying waste to drug dealers and thugs who have terrorised his working-class community. Underneath the extreme violence and cold-blooded retribution is what too many vigilante movies lack: a sympathetic heart and palpable motivation. Instead of themes such as racial hatred, gang violence, generational differences, old age and mentoring, like Eastwood’s bullet, director Daniel Barber’s impressive debut feature has Caine as the believable lead in an attack on a society desensitised to crime. TheBill on crack, HarryBrown starkly depicts South London as a cesspool of illegal activities which the police are either unable or unwilling to combat. A series of nasty unfolding events motivate widower and ex-marine Harry Brown (Caine) to lock and load. Barber provides a non-glamourised but artistically muscular snapshot of those trapped by lawbreakers. The film’s centrepiece is Brown’s meeting with ravaged pushers, with the extremely tense sequence always remembering that its “hero’’ is vulnerable, nervous and fuelled by furious grief. Caine astutely shifts the emotional gears within Brown, which is crucial to the audience sticking with the reprisals he hands out. Except for a disappointing final scene, HarryBrown’s only issue is its glib portrait of London’s cops. Presenting the top brass as ruthless pen-pushers, and the sole female officer (Emily Mortimer) as a bleeding heart, lessens this atmospheric film about taking a stand. ★★★★
Above the law: Michael Caine takes on a crime-ridden London as the titular Harry Brown.