After losing his wife to ill health, and his best, and only, friend to murderous estate kids, the pension claiming ex-marine, Harry Brown (Michael Caine, Get Carter), decides to take vengeance, clean up the streets and find justice for his murdered friend; all that stands in his way is the gun-toting estate kids themselves, and a couple of detectives that are determined to solve the problems of the estate, beginning with the recent murders.
Harry starts off rather slowly, with both his wife and best friend Len (David Bradley, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince) being very much alive (although his wife’s barely there), but their problems can be seen from the very instant the movie begins; with camera phone footage of kids playing with guns and accidentally shooting a young mother pushing a pram; after which the fear of those living on the estate is shown, as is the inability of the police force to solve them, and then it’s just a matter of time before the world (or at least the estate) turns on Harry, and he decides to fight back.
The film was inevitably going to draw comparisons with Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, as they both feature elderly veterans (Clint’s Walt having fought in the Korean War, and Michael Caine’s Harry being a veteran of the conflict in Northern Ireland) who are initially content to remain outsiders and reluctant to get involved with what they see as the downfall of society and increasing gang culture, but eventually get drawn into the local conflict and unleash their own personal brand of hell on their neighbourhoods occupants.
But they are still very different films; Harry Brown is much more depressing than Gran Torino, having a tone that is much darker (helped by the minimal amount of lighting used, use of less sophisticated cameras, and the tower block setting), and having a somewhat slower pace. It also doesn’t feature any of the niceties that feature between Walt and the one good neighbourhood kid, as when Harry goes bad he’s after one thing, vengeance. Also, unlike the flashy gangsters featured in Gran Torino, the youths on Harry’s estate are all brutally violent delinquents that are anything but flashy, and truly part of Britain’s ASBO generation; making them infinitely deserving of Harry’s justice and completely lacking in empathy.
The fact that these people are so despicable is a testament to their acting ability (unless they really did hire virulent drug pedalling thugs); as everyone of the violent youngsters, from the leader Noel Winters (Ben Drew, Adulthood) and the opportunistic Dean (Lee Oakes, Two Pints of Larger and a Packet of Crisps) through to the drug abusing, arms dealer, Kenny (Joseph Gilgun, Emmerdale), is 100% believable in their role; naturally appearing foreboding, tough, and smacked out of their heads (when appropriate); and any viewer can clearly see why the people of the estate would be scared of them, and would only have to look outside, or read the Daily Mail, to actually see people like that roaming the streets.
As always Michael Caine is fantastic in his role, and is the real glue that holds this film together; his performance is flawless, and his charisma is what will spark the initial interest for most people, and keep them viewing until the end (as some viewers do tend to find Harry Brown a bit on the slow side, and somewhat boring); although it’s clearly not his best picture to date, and anyone that is simply wants to watch Mr Caine tearing up London with a gun would be better off rewatching Get Carter.
In the end Harry Brown is a decent thriller, that gained just a little too much hype before release (but then it would have been impossible to stop the film world getting excited about seeing Michael Caine running around London shooting drug-abusing youngsters, in what has to be getting close to one of his final leading roles), and didn’t make quite enough out of the characters journey; Harry becomes a touch too trigger happy for some (yet some scenes, such as the ‘torture’ scene, didn’t take that element of his character far enough) and shows little of the emotion he began with by the time of the film’s close.
It’s an interesting, and contemporarily relevant, thriller that has some good action and very tense moments, and does make several no-so-subtle statements about the downfall of society in Britain and the ineptitude of the modern police force (everybody wants someone like Harry to clean up the country, and as one detective says “as far as I’m concerned Harry Brown’s doing us a favour”) but doesn’t quite live up to what was promised; being less of a British Gran Torino, and more of a standard revenge thriller, set on a rough London estate.
The 1080p transfer that has been applied to Harry Brown looks just like the estate it features; rough, run-down, and showing evidence of mistakes that most likely could have been fixed; the most noticeable thing about the picture is the unusually high level of grain that accompanies every single frame, which despite the production quality, and intended look, shouldn’t be that high.
The colour palette used is for the most part extremely flat and dull (intended to showcase the plight and misery of though on the estate), but has occasional scenes where certain bright colours fill the screen and illuminate everything on it. Skin tones are fairly consistent and natural looking throughout (unlike the blood reds which are too exaggerated, ketchup like, and obviously false), and contrast levels are acceptable; with blacks remaining fairly deep and dark all over the shadowy estate.
Overall Harry Brown has a picture that is little better than average, and certainly wouldn’t convince newcomers to go Blu; mainly because of the excessively high level of grain which significantly reduces the level of visible fine detail, and several visible print errors (including several instances of banding, and artifacing during poorly lit scenes) that can become distracting. It successfully conveys the run-down look of the estate, but pushes that idea one step too far.
Likewise the 5.1 DTS HD-MA sound-mix for Harry Brown is comparably average, as there is quite a lack of usage of the rear speakers (ambient noise is employed, and sounds best during the pub scenes, or echoey underpass, but not to a realistically full extent), and while the dialogue is fairly well represented, it is practically always anchored in the front and centre of the soundfield, and sometimes gets drowned out by other, more prioritized, sounds.
The film’s score sounds excellent, and does a good job of enhancing some scenes, but will prove comical for some viewers as it sounds like a carbon copy of Kevin Reipl’s Gears of War score in parts (particularly the common noise heard in game either when an area is clear, or an attack is imminent), and is often played around action segments.
The other major positive aspect, from a sound point of view, is the use of bass, which is powerfully impressive and not overused; tending to only accompany explosions or gunfire, to which it lends a real sense of weight and presence; lingering in the soundfield for just the appropriate amount of time.
A fairly average mix that is far from demo worthy, but suffers from no serious levelling issues, won’t harm anyone’s enjoyment of the main movie itself, and does feature some very solid bass. A mix that isn’t bad, just rather underwhelming.
The special features bundled with Harry Brown include a truly fantastic audio commentary track featuring Daniel Barber (the film’s director), Michael Caine, and one of the producers, which is a brilliant listen as Michael Caine reels of numerous hilarious and fascinating anecdotes about both the film itself and his career as a whole (including quipping about dealing drugs, and even shooting his wife).
However after the brilliant commentary track, the bonus materials take a bit of a down turn, with a handful of cast and crew interviews that are fairly short, and wholly unremarkable, a music video (Chase & Status’ End Credits, which is actually quite catchy, well suited, well filmed, and well integrated with clips from the movie) whose enjoyment will depend solely on musical inclination, and a selection of deleted scenes which are again rather flat and rightfully removed from the main picture.
A fairly slim collection of features that thankfully contains no filler material, but is likely to be mostly passed over as the average nature of the interviews and deleted scenes (which make up the majority of extras) are unlikely to invite repeated viewings. Although the commentary track is excellent, and should be listened to by anyone that enjoyed the film, or even has a passing interest in learning more about Sir Michael Caine.
The Bottom Line:
In the end Harry Brown is a decent enough revenge/vigilante movie, although it doesn’t quite reach the moral or violent heights that the trailer suggested it would; it’s clearly not a British Gran Torino (and is much more akin to Deathwish), and many viewers would argue that it is too slow, and that Get Carter would be a much better choice for a Michael Caine revenge film; however, it does feature some truly great acting (and a brilliant performance by Michael Caine) and, despite its overly depressing tone, never becomes overly boring.
The picture and sound quality are far from the best that Blu-ray has to offer but, while fairly slim looking, the extras should have enough information to satisfy (though far from delight) the films fans, and do contain an excellent commentary track that’s worth anybody listening to.
If it wasn’t for Michael Caine, then Harry Brown would have gone down as another, just below par, British action flick, that would have been forgotten just as quickly as so many others have been. But thanks to the inclusion of Sir Mike, (the real glue that holds the picture together and makes it stand as tall as it does) it is a good film; not as good as the trailers made out, but still a good film. Anyone who likes their thrillers excessively dark and depressing will love this, but it’s not really one to blind buy as it’s not for everyone, and may disappoint many; give it a rent first, or wait until it’s put on offer.