Harry Brown (UK - DVD R2)
Our reviewer Scott McKenzie has another run-in with a gang of hoodies...
Harry Brown (Michael Caine) is an elderly ex-Marine who lives on a tough council estate in London. Shortly after his wife dies in hospital, his friend Len decides to make a stand against the kids from the estate that have been terrorising him. The ill-judged conflict ends in Len’s death and Harry suddenly finds himself alone in the world. When the police’s actions don’t make any difference on the estate, Harry decides to take the law into his own hands and track down the men who killed his friend and deliver his own brand of justice.
Harry Brown begins with an intense opening scene filmed in grainy mobile-phone-vision that shows the initiation of a hoodie into the estate’s gang by shooting a passer-by. I immediately thought of the fairly harrowing experience that I had to go through to review Eden Lake a while back and thought this was going to be more of the same, but as the film progressed I was pleased to discover that the tone of Harry Brown was far more optimistic, which led to a far more rewarding viewing experience. Another movie I thought of while watching the beginning of the film was Up. No, really. The setup of Harry’s character is very similar to the setup of Carl Fredricksen, even down to the lingering shot of his wife’s empty chair at the dinner table.
The common theme that ran through Eden Lake was that all hoodies are evil and Harry Brown is no different. However, the antagonists are given more layers of personality and we are even offered some explanations for their tearaway status during our introductions to them in a nice montage of police interviews. That’s not to say that the viewer doesn’t get a buzz out of seeing them get their comeuppance though. The violent scenes are brutal without ever being gratuitous and there is a good twist in the tale in the climax.
It’s easy to see why Michael Caine was attracted to the role of Harry Brown. There’s a key conversation between Harry and Len early on when he says that he’s locked away his memories of his time in the armed forces. That’s where we get the heart of the character—Harry is someone who has locked away that side of him and it’s only when he loses everything that he unleashes the beast. The fact that Harry is an old man also plays a part in making the character vulnerable, as we see him struggle to keep up with one of the hoodies who makes his escape.
Harry Brown is an interesting film to watch and not just for the strong performances from Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer. Rather than opting for what could have been the easy option of filming the movie like an episode of The Bill, Harry Brown is composed of long takes that emphasise the desolation of the housing estate and the realism of the situation that mimics the lives of many people in the UK, which is discussed in more detail in the extras by Michael Caine, who said he felt like he was ‘one of them’.
The look of Harry Brown matches the area where the action takes place. The colour palette is grey and grimy and there are no bright colours—everything looks tired and washed-out. The film is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen but I have a complaint about the aspect ratio in the opening scene. We’re supposed to think we’re watching footage from a mobile phone, so I think it would have been more convincing to show this scene in a boxed-off 4:3 window to give us that little bit more realism. CGI appears to have been used for some blood and smoke effects, but it is used sparingly and doesn’t detract from what is first and foremost a story focused on the characters rather than the effects.
The disc comes with no audio options other than Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. There isn’t heavy use of directional sound apart from the riot scenes late on in the film and there are quite a few moments of silence during the scenes Michael Caine shares with Emily Mortimer. So while there might not be much to give your surround system a decent workout, I can’t complain about the quality of the track. There is no interference in the moments of silence and the dialogue and score are clear, although there was the odd point when I though the music was a little bit loud compared with the dialogue. One thing to look out for is the gunshot sound effect used in the scene where Harry goes to buy a gun. I’m not sure whether it’s to do with the echo caused by the room the scene is set in or if it’s a specially designed effect, but it sounds pretty cool and isn’t just a stock gunshot effect used in a million other films.
The disc begins with skippable trailers for Daybreakers, The Hurt Locker and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. The commentary with Michael Caine, director Daniel Barber and producer Kris Thykier is by far the best feature on the disc. Michael Caine reels off some gems from his endless stream of anecdotes about this film and his life in general, and the funny story about meeting the actress who played his wife in Harry Brown goes completely against the serious tone of the film at the point when he tells it.
There are six extended/deleted scenes available and for once, they are genuinely interesting and even though they were obviously cut to speed the film along, they do flesh out the characters a little more, in particular the moments when Harry talks about his daughter, whose history is ambiguous throughout the film. Next up is a set of interviews with the actors who played the main parts. They talk about how they got their parts and their experience on set. Michael Caine says he can relate his past to the real kids on the estate where Harry Brown was filmed and spent time with them while making the film. Rounding off the extras is a music video with the actor who played Noel singing over clips from the film.
A caged monster unleashed on a rampage of revenge? Yes, I’m going to summarise Harry Brown as ‘ Taken with a bus pass’ in a vain attempt to get a quote on the cover of some special edition that might come along in the future. Harry Brown is actually better than that, with cracking performances and a story that reflects the state of modern Britain without lapsing into out-and-out pessimism. There isn’t exactly a huge array of extras but it’s worth picking up this disc just for the commentary with Harry Brown himself.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 22nd March 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Commentary, Extended and Deleted Scenes, Interviews, Music Video
Easter Egg: No
Director: Daniel Barber
Cast: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Liam Cunningham, Ben Drew, Jack O'Connell
Genre: Crime and Drama
Length: 103 minutes
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