This movie is grimy. Michael Caine plays the titular character that used to be a Royal Marine, but is now an old widower who spends most of his time focused on chess games with his friend Leonard (David Bradley). Both of them hate what has happened to their city. The youth have terrorized the area with their extreme violence and drug use. After Leonard is found dead by their knives, Harry can’t take it anymore.
So off he goes mixing around with drug dealers and murderers and killing anyone who has done wrong. Whenever Harry kills someone a third of his age, it’s not very satisfying. Mostly I just wanted to take a shower. This version of England is so gritty that it’s very unpleasant to watch. (The overbearing and clichéd film score doesn’t help either.) The youth gangsters are so obnoxious and vile that you don’t really want them to die exactly, but to have never been put on screen. Grittiness is not necessary a bad thing. The Wire’s version of Baltimore is terrifying, but there are enough powerful storytelling elements that always kept me intrigued.
Everything that happens in Harry Brown is standard revenge/vigilante plotting. Not only Harry’s storyline, but the subplot with the police as well. Emily Mortimer plays Alice Frampton, a sympathetic and brilliant detective who respects Harry Brown. It’s a pretty standard role as she fights with crime and bureaucracy but Mortimer really shines in the role. Her and Caine add great depths to otherwise unmemorable characters.
Caine, in particular, is incredible in this movie. Instead of taking pride in his revenge Caine handles it with terrible sadness. The scenes that work best are the ones that are separate from the vengeance plotline. I liked seeing his lonely daily activities and his interactions with non-psychotic individuals. There’s an interesting character within Harry Brown but this isn’t the movie to really examine him.