What do you get when you have a person that’s part Foxy Brown part Dirty Harry? You get Harry Brown, of course. The vigilante that will be compared to Charles Bronson in every review, and perhaps a few comparisons to Gran Torino.
This is more of a Dodge Stealth than a Gran Torino. Michael Caine, who plays chess with his buddy Len (well…until Len runs afoul of the hooligans in the neighborhood). Just like a chess player, he plots his moves careful.
He doesn’t just run to the bridge they hang out under, firing a gun randomly. He watches one leave a bar and approaches cautiously.
He looks out his window trying to figure out what they’re up to (usually just selling drugs and slapping around people that walk by).
Director Daniel Barber really has a nice debut picture with this. He filmed in a greenish color that’s half-lit at times. It gives this part of Britain a dirty feel. And unlike the Guy Ritchie films (it was produced by Matthew Vaughn), it doesn’t have that hipness Ritchie always seems to be going for. This is a much more realistic picture.
When a police captain is yelling at two of his officers (one played well by the always impressive Emily Mortimer), he doesn’t threaten to take their badges, or yelling at them for getting involved. He simply tells Mortimer she might be better suited for the position that became available in a fake identity case, “especially with your background.” It’s so much less condescending than the usual chewing out cops get in film.
Unlike Tarantino, who used close-ups poorly in Inglourious Basterds, I enjoyed seeing the close-ups of Caine putting jam on his toast, or swirling the last of his ale in an empty pub. It gave a good feel to what was happening in the scenes.
Not to mention a few of the edits. We go from hearing a car alarm for five minutes, to immediately hearing a phone ring.
What really bothers me is that in a vigilante picture that is predictable (they all are), a few of the scenes are a tad over-the-top.
When Caine goes to visit a drug dealer, under the guise of wanting to buy a gun, it’s bizarre that these creeps (that look like members of the Sex Pistols) even let him in. Sure, they’re tweaking and out of it, but still.
And when Caine walks in, past all the pot growing and other drugs, you figure there’s millions of dollars worth. How is it just these two guys (that are wasted) are running the show? And at a place that took Caine 10 minutes to find. How is it the police haven’t raided the joint?
It’s easy to overlook that, when you’re having so much fun watching Caine stab one in the arm and blasting a hole into the other…and talking to him as he’s dying about his days in the Marines and having the unfortunate experience of watching a fellow soldier die.
I also thought a scene involving a riot was a bit odd. How could there be that many drug dealers and thugs fighting off the police? Where did they all come from? For most of the movie, we were only seeing 10 bullies that terrorized the neighborhood.
So many scenes worked, that you can let the few bad ones slide.
There wasn’t gratuitous violence, which was nice. In fact, when Caine gets ready to torture someone for information, you know what he does? He merely whips the tied up guy, while threatening to shoot off his kneecaps, until he finally starts talking.
When the crying kid shows Caine a cell phone of the recorded crime (to prove he didn’t stab his friend), it also brings a nice use of the cell phone into the picture. The Departed, a movie critics liked much more, used cell phones in a stupid way that didn’t work for me. But when Caine is shaking down a character in a bar, wanting to know where the ringleader is – he simply pushes the kids name on the phone and hears a cell phone ringing to the side of him. Great stuff.
The movie also becomes a bit of a character study that packs an emotional punch in a few places.
Some people might think Michael Caine brings too much baggage to his roles, but I think he always slips nicely into character. If this had been a slightly better script, we’d see an Oscar nomination for this performance.
On the vigilante grading scale, this movie scores a B.