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Movie review: ‘Harry Brown’ good at raising Caine

Ed Symkus

It’s too bad that Michael Caine doesn’t make more revenge movies. They’re a perfect match for the style of menace he can exude.

An early one was “Get Carter” (1971), in which he ruthlessly went after the killers of his brother. The next year he co-starred in “Sleuth,” as the revenge-minded target of Laurence Olivier, for the crime of stealing his wife. Just three years ago, Caine again co-starred in that film’s remake, but this time as the guy doling out the “justice.”

Now he’s got the title role in “Harry Brown,” the tale of an old gent whose life is quickly being torn away from him. His wife succumbs to disease – many years after they lost their young daughter – and his only friend Len falls victim to the young crack-head hoodlums who are terrorizing Harry’s run-down neighborhood.

But Harry can do nothing but stare down at the violence from a window of his dismal apartment, where he is now truly alone.

It all seems so hopeless. But what was it that Len was asking Harry not long ago? Something about his time in the Marines, stationed up in Northern Ireland, all those years ago. Something like, “Harry, did you ever kill anyone?” Harry chose not to answer, hinting only that he led a different life back then.

Now Len is gone, and Harry spends his time brooding. He’s wrapped up in grimness, much like the neighborhood around him, the place the cops call “the estate.” The cops (Emily Mortimer, Charlie Creed-Miles) come by, looking for clues about Len’s murder and offering condolences, but Harry only blames them for letting it happen.

Seems there’s nothing for him to do but go to the pub, get drunk, and wallow in his own misery. But getting drunk leads to sloppiness, like letting the contents of his wallet be seen, which leads to a late-night confrontation with a punk, which leads to ... wait, wasn’t there something about his time in the Marines?

“Harry Brown” is a nasty little film that might bring to mind the vigilantism of Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish” series, practiced here by an innocent senior citizen. But it’s not an accurate comparison, as this goes off in very different directions. Harry has plenty of his own medical problems, and regularly huffs and puffs after only mild exertion. But he does somehow manage to be in the vicinity when certain unsavory characters get snuffed. And it’s easy to accept his sudden metamorphosis when, say, he finds himself keeping company with a couple of seedy looking, scarred-up fellows who deal guns and live in drug-addled squalor.

Amidst the dark and dank atmosphere and its creepy young irredeemable villains and really loud gunshots, there’s Harry, determination all over his face. There are good cops and useless cops, a softly pulsing and throbbing soundtrack to make everything a little more uncomfortable, and a terrific performance from Caine that’s mostly as muted as the film’s purposely unpleasant color palette.

There’s just a tad too much coincidence in the plotting to make it all completely believable, but that’s a small complaint when Caine’s Harry is such a great character to root for.

HARRY BROWN (R for violence, language, drug use, sexual content.) Cast includes Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Charlie Creed-Miles Grade. 3.5 stars out of 4.