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Harry Brown  

Review: written 15th February 2012

Slumming it provides Caines best role in years

Harry Brown is somewhat in the mould of the superior Gran Torino, but with a distinctly more UK twist. The setting is a London housing estate where hoodies rule, and there are some paths or pedestrian underpasses that you just avoid. Michael Caine is a retired marine, living out his latter years quietly. However a series of events brings him head to head with the hoodies, and the tough soldier turns out to be not so far under the surface as it at first seemed.

It's not an unfamiliar sort of vigilante type story, but it works for two reasons - one, the housing estate is so well portrayed it seems real, and even if you don't live in an area quite as bleak as this one, there are elements of the familiar which make it seem vivid and authentic. Secondly, Caine's performance is not showy, but works a treat. He manages to portray a character who is simultaneously frail and elderly and yet able to mete out acts of violence where he feels required to do so. He convinces us that the man we meet with that familiar voice, who is evidently a compassionate human being loyal to his friends, can also become cold hearted to those he comes in to confrontation with. Some minor plaudits to for Emily Mortimer who is the sympathetic policewoman investigating the surge in violence.

Certainly decay seems to be a theme the filmmaker is keen to explore.. Decay is all around us in this movie- decayed health, decayed human beings, decayed souls, as well as the more obvious decayed housing estate. However, it could be argued in places the decay goes just a bit too far - the scene where Caine goes in search of a gun is unsettingly grimy and unpleasant, and while one of the least watchable scenes in the movie, does not entirely progress the ideas of the movie forward much, except as a stepping stone in Caine's character rediscovering his more youthful self capable of violence. Also, there are some glaring holes in the plot filled with contrivances it is hard to forgive.. the way the characters come together at the end is just hard to fathom, and smacks of the screenwriter running out of ideas, and how DID he find the seller of guns so easily if he kept to himself so much?

Having said that, for a first time director this is an assured piece of work, and in setting out the stall with slow scenes which place character development over easy action beats, benefits enormously by making us care for the characters. Gains an extra * for Caine's unshowy performance.

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