Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hollywood Bites Review: "Harry Brown"

"Harry Brown" is an unyieldingly dark film that's taut, blood splattered and gritty. And it stars Michael Caine. Say whaaa?

That’s right, Caine, giving a turn reminiscent of his role in 1971’s “Get Carter,” stars as Harry Brown, a recently widowed ex-Royal Marine who goes on a vigilante killing spree to avenge the murder of his last remaining friend by a gang of local teenage thugs in East London.

Beginning with hyper-realistic first-person footage, seemingly shot on a Flip Cam or cell phone, of teenagers smoking heroin from a light bulb before going for a joy ride and repeatedly shooting an innocent mother walking her infant in a stroller, “Harry Brown” is varnishless. Violent, bloody and merciless, the film can be painfully, overpoweringly silent, using only ambient noises and the sound of Harry wheezing with emphysema as he plunges into the dark night of the soul.

Delving deep into Charles Bronson-“Death Wish” territory, first-time director Daniel Barber is unflinching in his portrayal of a man whose life is filled with loss and loneliness. Shooting the film in a gun-metal grey hue, through graffiti riddled concrete caverns and in the flickering TV light of a drug den, sunlight is as absent from the film as hope.

While Caine is his usual brilliant self, Emily Mortimer is unfortunately cast as Alice Frampton, a police officer investigating the murder that send Harry over the edge. Mousey and gentle, she’s not believable as a cop walking the roughest beat around, but her tenderness is the only in the film and it’s occasionally a welcome, necessary addition.

Dark, disturbing and unsettlingly realistic, Caine gives a master class on elevating material. This vigilante story has been done many times before but it usually ends up closer to The Rock’s "Walking Tall" than Eastwood’s "Gran Torino." Thanks to Caine, this is one of the few credible exceptions. But it’s still a beast to sit through.

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