Harry Brown (Caine) lives on a grim London estate where his quiet life is constantly interrupted by a gang of violent teens. As his wife lies dying in hospital, his best pal (Bradley) is the target of these thugs' abuse. And the detectives (Mortimer and Creed-Miles) looking into the situation don't seem to be doing anything about it. Pushed into a corner, Harry defends himself with his long-suppressed military training, then becomes more aggressive about cleaning up the streets himself.
Intriguingly, filmmaker Barber continually resists letting this become a revenge thriller, which is what it most closely resembles. For the kids on his estate, violence has become entertainment. But Harry's actions are seen less as retribution than as the last resort of a tired man who can no longer silently sit by as his entire world collapses around him. And while the film is deliberately exaggerated, it also sharply catches the collapse of old-world society without ever creating cartoonish characters.
Sure, many of the villains who populate this film feel like caricatures, but each actor is given surprising layers to play with. The four central teens (Drew, O'Connell, Oakes and Downey) all transcend their stereotypes, while Cunningham makes the most of the film's most cliched character: the nice-guy barman with a secret. Harris does the same with his hideously slimy gun/drug dealer in the film's most palpably intense sequence, which combines a barrage of clever on-screen details with a low soundtrack rumble to maximum effect.
But of course, this is Caine's tour-de-force, as he fully invests Harry with a tainted past and a powerfully emotional present. In his steely eyes, Harry becomes one of the most intriguing movie characters of the year--grizzled and shattered, and yet finding just enough adrenaline to get through whatever he has to do next. And perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this earthy, over-violent thriller is that it has an intense sadness to it that keeps us emotionally involved right through to the end.
Run time: 103 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 11th November 2009
Box Office USA: $1.8M
Distributed by: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Production compaines: Marv Films, HanWay Films, UK Film Council
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
Fresh: 78 Rotten: 43
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Daniel Barber
Producer: Keith Bell, Kris Thykier, Matthew Vaughn
Screenwriter: Gary Young
Starring: Michael Caine as Harry Brown, Emily Mortimer as D.I. Alice Frampton, Iain Glen as S.I. Childs, Lee Oakes as Dean Saunders, Liam Cunningham as Sid Rourke, Sean Harris as Stretch, Charlie Creed-Miles as D.S. Terry Hicock, David Bradley as Leonard Attwell, Ben Drew as Noel Winters, Jack O'Connell as Marky, Jamie Downey as Carl, Liz Daniels as Kath Brown
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