The films opening sequence promises so much. Its full of immediacy and filmed as if on a mobile phone a visceral assault on the senses and a stunning introduction into the world of motive-less violence in modern day Britain.
It is a chaotic world where drugs and guns rule the streets and where an overarching sense of utter pointlessness and survival is all you can hope for. This is not an easy, comfortable ride through middle-class suburbia.
The film follows a quiet law-abiding pensioner, Harry Brown (Michael Caine), who is a veteran Marine living alone in a poverty-stricken housing estate. He lives a simple life minding his own business, but with his wife gone, his only company in the world is his best friend Leonard (David Bradley). When Leonard is brutally murdered by the gang of youths terrorising their estate, Harry can no longer stand silently by on the sidelines.
The police are both unable and unwilling to offer any meaningful assistance, so Harry is forced to employ the Marine skills that he has shunned for so long in order to dispense his own vigilante justice. However, his actions do not go unnoticed and the mild-mannered, sensitive new DCI Frampton (Emily Mortimer) begins to suspect that things are not as they seem.
Harry Brown is the directorial debut from short film Oscar nominee Daniel Barber and it shows moments of real flair. Unfortunately, such moments are not maintained throughout the 103 minutes of running time.
Barber has successfully translated this background of hopelessness and fear to the screen and has not shied away from representing the heartless and brutal elements of human behaviour. But there wasnt enough social commentary or deep character analysis to balance out the hopelessness, making Harry Brown very difficult to watch (or indeed to enjoy watching). However, it is certainly thought provoking material.
The film brings together an admirable cast of newcomers and old-timers, including Liam Cunningham (Hunger, The Wind that Shakes the Barley), young British rapper Ben Drew (aka Plan B), and Lee Oakes (Munch from Two Pints of Larger and a Packet of Crisps). The young and reasonably inexperienced cast bring energy and a lack of pretension to their performances whilst older professionals like David Bradley (Filch in Harry Potter) and Iain Glen (Diary of Anne Frank and Kingdom of Heaven) provide gravitas and truthful sincerity.
Emily Mortimer, however, is disappointing and unconvincing as the sharp-minded ambitious DCI with a conscience. She plays the role with too much vulnerability and meekness, making it simply unbelievable that she would ever have survived as a police inspector.
Michael Caine, as ever, is a true professional, and this is not a difficult role for him to play. His performance is moving and sincere but theres a feeling that the material never challenges him and that as an actor he could achieve so much more. A sequence where he loses his wife would have been quite bland had it not been for his heartfelt performance, but a lead actor should not be the saving grace of a film he should be the cherry on the top.
It is clear that this film shows an aspect of society that everyone is keen to ignore and brush under the carpet. As a form of social commentary, it simply holds up a mirror and offers no solutions. As a form of entertainment, it is momentarily exciting. But ultimately the characters are not likeable enough for you to care.
Daniel Barber is clearly a director to watch out for but Harry Brown doesnt live up to it promises.