Harry Brown

They don’t even try to hide it anymore.

Vigilantes. They have their breaking point, they take the law into their own hands, that time, it was personal, and somebody’s got to clean up the streets. A loose cannon refers to the heavy guns on a ship that, at sea, come loose from their pinnions and fly around deck with the sway of the ship. The problem with loose cannons is that they have no clear direction and are bound to cause an injury. Vigilante is a bad word because they’re almost always loose cannons. We don’t trust their direction. With good reason. Almost certainly, they’ve lost a their marbles. Those who don’t join the police or military. The problem there is that they have age restrictions.

Harry Brown (Michael Caine) lives in a counsel estate in England. It’s the Wild West out there except it’s only the baddies. People who don’t live in fear don’t have a grip on reality. He wants to go see his wife who is in a coma, but he can’t take the quick route through thte underpass because the hoodies are there. Harry’s friend Len (David Bradley) is being terrorized by these kids and starts carrying a beyonet with him. When Len is killed, Harry takes it badly and accidently kills a crackhead who’s mugging him. Why stop there? Get some guns off some incredibly creepy bad guy (Sean Harris) and get to work finding Len’s killer. Also on the trail is Inspector Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer) and DS Hicock (Charlie Creed-Miles) who don’t get very far in their interrogations.

Caine is superb in this movie. He plays the character as vulnerable and aged, but also calm and determined. What could have turned into Michael Caine “kick[ing] some serious butt” was actually a little more nuanced than that. While plenty of film and television has taken pains to show how even children can fire weapons, few consider how easily a pensioner can pull a trigger.

The other performances aren’t quite as superb. Some of that is down to writing (by Gary Young). In painting a clear and vivid picture of goodies and baddies, the characters are a little limited to sadistic-wacko or well-meaning, but ineffective officials. No, it’s the Michael Caine show and most everyone else is there to support the narrative. Fair enough.

The direction, by Daniel Barber, is quite good. Shot selection and pacing is pretty marvelous. I like my movies to have a slow burn and this one can be so-described. I think the rioters are a little samey after a while and could have been better shown through Harry’s journey from [spoiler], but most everything else is well and unobtrusively put together (my highest praise).

Harry Brown (2009) is like Taxi Driver (1976) but with someone more adjusted and easily sympathetic. I don’t know about you, but I’m not losing any sleep at night when some of these guys hit the dirt. The problem, as always, is that the semi-innocent get in the way. Sometimes people you think are innocent are very much not.

I’ve twinned Harry Brown with another vigilante movie I borrowed from the library, Falling Down (1993). I haven’t seen it yet, but I am given to understand it has another view of vigilantes. Well, Harry Brown, for one, is setting out the issue as honestly as you can, in my view. The moral problem of vigilanteism is whether it can ever be justified.

To answer that, we’ve got to imagine some situations. Here we have one where the police are immobilized and the perpetrators are sadistic, without any positive direction in their lives, and apparently proud of themselves. They sell drugs, disrespect/assault/abuse women, and murder people for no reason.

Harry was in Northern Ireland as a Marine (and well-decorated) and when confronted with “This isn’t Northern Ireland, Harry” he responds “No it’s not. There, they had a cause. This [riot], for them, is just entertainment.” Stage set, I think.

We can all come in with our namby-pamby, wishy-washy options that we’ll vote for but leave unfund or we can just start beating the crap out of people. Ah, “You have a problem with the execution, not the policy,” you say, to which I respond “How are you any different?” Surely it’s the loose cannon we disapprove of rather than unofficially punishing people–execution, not policy.

That will resonate with those who are not convinced of procedural justice. Those who do believe in procedural justice will only see the next time, the loose cannon, and moral equivalency. Well, they’re two-thirds right. It is true that to endorse unadulterated vigilanteism is to replace one fear-based dictator with another.

In the perfect world, everyone has sound judgment and only take out the baddies, but it’s not a perfect world and those eager to engage in violence need to be carefully supervised. The moral equivalency, though, needs to go. Harry is not as bad as those hoodies. Make all the excuses you like, but they killed that guy for fun. They’re not coming back.

The back of the DVD, like all DVD backs, doesn’t really capture the feel of the movie. It’s more hopeless than desolate and the dealers terrorize rather than rule. Also, it isn’t that “Harry begins to serve his own brand of justice – and no one will stop him,” but that Harry is trying to do something when he has no one left. It isn’t unique, it isn’t his own, it’s just another rendition of many people’s intuition for retribution and violent problem-solving.

I liked this movie, it’s a good movie.  Don’t get the wrong impression, all the preaching is mine, not the movie’s.  It’s well worth buying.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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One Response to Harry Brown

  1. Pingback: Falling Down | Prof. Ratigan

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