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Harry Brown

Reviewed By Mark Zhuravsky
Posted 07/21/11 21:38:26

"Knee-deep in dog muck, thieving kids and crusty jugglers..."
3 stars (Just Average)

Michael Caine has arresting screen charisma to spare. His posture, delivery and oft-mocked accent have all become trademarks of the classic actor, equally efficient in supporting roles (with all due respect to the late Michael Gough, Caine does Alfred better) and a memorable leading man to boot. "Harry Brown" director Daniel Barber knows this, and the first 20 minutes of the film firmly put the viewer on Caine's side.

As a retired military man with a dying wife suffering her last days in a hospital, Caine relegates himself to chess games with long-time friend Leonard (David Bradley, who will forever be associated with his role as Argus Filch in the “Potter” films). When Leonard is brutally dispatched by Britain’s local murderous, hoodie-wearing, drug-dealing, misogynistic teenagers (this called for the "Hot Fuzz" reference), Caine is forced to utilize his commendable training to thin out the unruly herd. As a vet who put aside his capacity to kill men for the sake of his marriage, Caine is very affecting, and it’s unfortunate that once Barber (working from a script by Gary Young) moves into single-minded “Death Wish” territory, the film loses some steam.

The first act, dealing with a community hounded by luridly violent teenage thugs, is a fascinating look at men whose age has rendered them physically impotent. Bradley grumbles with the best of them and when he meets an untimely end at the hand of Noel (Ben Drew), Barber is wise to keep the scene out of our grasp until a pivotal dramatic moment. We see glimpses of the carnage dealt out to Leonard’s body and Caine is driven to the drink as a result. When he’s cornered by a young robber, he responds instinctively, capturing the subtlety of recalling the skills that once made him dangerous.

The rest of the film is a series of measured scenes of Caine dispensing carnage on caricatures. Noel is especially pure evil, and the rest of his antagonistic crew doesn’t fare better. A side-plot featuring two officers (Emily Mortimer, Charlie Creed-Miles) investigating Caine’s vigilante murders comes together at the end but seems to exist largely to show bureaucratic stalling contrasting with immediate righteous action. A major event in the third act is a off-the-beaten path, but is also a convenient excuse to bring all the characters together for a clichéd, but very satisfying finale.

Derivative but occasionally bold, "Harry Brown" reminds this writer of an old "Simpsons" joke, purporting to be a review of "Death Wish 9", with Bronson churning out vengeance from a hospital bed. Still, with Caine at the helm and Barber's efficient direction, this thriller stands out.

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