Big Jim Review: Harry Brown

Michael Caine is a difficult actor to categorize. He has had enormous swings in both the types of characters and quality of films he has been attached to. There is no question that he is good. Anyone who can pull off the comedy of “The Italian Job,” the brutality of ”Get Carter,” the quandary that is “Alfie,” and the gentleness of, “The Cider House Rules,” not to mention winning two Oscars with another four nominations is an actor who must be respected.


Just as hard to categorize is “Harry Brown.” If you want to take the easy road you can call it  “Death Wish” meets "Gran Torino." You would be wrong in doing so, but you could do it. You would be wrong because doing so would reduce this film to a knock off, and it is anything but. While the themes and ideas of this film have been explored before none have really done it in as personal a manner as this.

Harry Brown is the kind of man who put the “Great” in Great Britain. He is a highly decorated former marine who only wants to live out his last few years enjoying the few pleasures he has left in life, even as the world around spirals into something completely foreign to him. His days consist of visiting his wife in hospital, spending time at his daughters grave, and down at the local pub having a few pints over a game of chess with his only surviving friend Leonard.

When Leonard starts getting harassed by the neighborhood hooligans Harry tells him to go to the police, keep his head down, and trust in the system. A few days later, after Harry’s wife dies, Leonard is brutally murdered. When it appears that the system that failed Leonard in life is going to fail him in death it is more than he can stand.

With nothing left in life Harry decides to do what he was trained to do, protect his island.

That being said how is this movie different from the other “Death Wish” knockoffs?

Well, that is a difficult one because it does share many characteristics with films of that ilk.

For starters it actually shows the way that the system has failed not only the victims but also the perpetrators of these crimes. The young criminals are not just “Thug 1” and “Thug 2,” they are given some sense of background and reason for their disillusionment. Be it the son of a criminal who learned first hand that the only way to get respect is by being harder than the next guy, to the man who sees nothing done to help his brother after an assault, to the young man who suffered (and continues to suffer) sexual abuse at the hands of those who should be looking out for him, all of these characters are given something to define them

This is a hard movie. There is brutality and inhumanity and a very desensitized element in it, but it is handled in a very realistic and unglamorous way. The violence is not simply thrown in without any weight. There is weight and there are consequences. The only complaint I have, and it is a small one, is about the use of CGI blood and gunshot wounds. It looks fake and distracted me at times by looking fake, but they do not detract from the movie because of the weight of everything that happens.

There is a real sense of loss throughout and it really hits home. We have all seen men like Harry. The old guy at the grocery store buying a TV dinner, or sitting in the corner of a bar by themselves they are present in our lives, but we know nothing about them. This shows how lonely, how quiet, and how frightening the world can be for people that have lost their place in it. It also shows how dangerous can be when that world pushes them a little bit too far.


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