PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

'Harry Brown': Attack of the Elderly

What was marketed as Michael Caine's Taken can more accurately be described as his age-appropriate sequel to Get Carter.

Harry Brown

Director: Daniel Barber
Cast: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Charlie Creed-Miles, David Bradley, Liam Cunningham
Length: 103 minutes
Studio: Marv Partners, UK Film Council, HanWay Films, Prescience Film Fund, and Framestore
Year: 2010
Distributor: Sony
MPAA Rating: R for strong language and language throughout, drug use and sexual content
Release Date: 2010-08-31

In a way, all movies serve as fantasy fulfillment. Whether it’s applicable to a large or small demographic seems to be the only variation (Luke Skywalker is clearly made for everyone to get behind while Ewoks are mainly for children). Lately, even some of the bigger blockbusters are targeting a specific audience instead of the mass public.

Just a few weekends ago, The Expendables tried to woo the '80s action audience while Eat Pray Love and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World aimed to please women and hipsters, respectively. Harry Brown, a British revenge picture with an unlikely star, may have been less financially successful than these hits, but its certainly not worse. It's target: a mature audience.

First of all,Harry Brown is much more than Michael Caine’s audition tape for a role in The Expendables 2. In fact, there probably aren’t enough action sequences to make Caine a clip reel to send Mr. Stallone. This is primarily a drama with a few tweaks to add entertainment.

Michael Caine plays the titular Harry Brown, an aging ex-marine whose friends are disappearing left and right. Not only is he a widow, but he lives in an extremely rough neighborhood plagued by young gang members looking for violent fun on a nightly basis. His friend Leonard (David Bradley) has had multiple problems with the hooligans, including fires set inside his apartment, but the police will do nothing. It’s clear that mere toleration can only last for so long.

The setup is ideally simple, but there are two major plot holes to get past. The first is a simple question: why doesn’t Harry move? If the apartment complex is horrific enough to constantly terrify him, why doesn’t he find another slum with less aggressive hoodlums? His financial status is never formally discussed and thus the audience is just supposed to believe this place is the best he can afford. This very well could be the case, but it would have been nice if other options (or the lack thereof) were discussed at some point.

The second issue is how the film portrays the London police force. Police inadequacy is a common trope in movies focusing on vigilante justice, but this is completely ludicrous. Emily Mortimer plays D.I. Alice Frampton, and she’s the only officer who has a clue about how to do her job. Again, an audience might have gone along with things if the film would have argued the force is underfunded and ill equipped to protect this specific part of town. Yet the only explanation is a brief scene of the police ineptly interrogating a few suspects. You and I could have asked better questions and those ideas are what lingers once the scene is over.

The film isn’t meant to be taken as seriously as its subject matter could be interpreted. Though it’s extremely dark and gritty, Harry Brown is still mainly about the revenge of a 70-year-old man ala Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, and thus afforded some leeway with its diegetic rules. Violence goes hand in hand with the plot even if heroin needles and rape generally do not. Director Daniel Barber forces these hard topics to fit and they do. It changes the film for the better by making it more nuanced, real, and emotionally challenging.

Michael Caine improves the film, too, and in the same ways. He also exhibits its forgivable flaws. Caine does an extraordinary job with a role that mainly requires him to convince us he can muster up the energy to kill a human being. He’s done this before, but not in the same style since 1971’s Get Carter. Stallone, who replaced Caine in the remake of Get Carter, can pull it off because of his looks. Caine gets everything right, but lacks the physical prowess required for a few intense moments. This simply isn’t his scene, anymore.

As Caine huffs and puffs his way around the small apartment complex with his knife and gun, it’s hard not to imagine all of his elderly fans thinking maybe they could still do the same, too. While that may spur on their enjoyment of the film, it leaves the rest of us a bit flustered. After all, it’s tough to picture your emphysema-plagued grandfather running around in chilly London killing bad guys without rolling your eyes. With no slight to Caine, there are a few too many questionable moments to fully engage with the fantasy even if what can be believed is still surprisingly full of impact.

Though their actions are exaggerated, the characters’ problems are not. Plenty of people are put in horrible circumstances such as these on a daily basis and are left with few options to alleviate their worries. The film provides an adequate escape for anyone empathizing with problems similar to Harry’s, even with the aforementioned flaws. The performances are solid, environment authentic, and direction fluent. With five different production companies, it’s good to see the money went to the right places.

Unfortunately, they must have run out of funding for special features. Director’s commentary and deleted scenes are better than nothing (and better than average here), but the disc could even have benefitted from more of the conventional bonus goodies. In a movie with strong social messages, any feature furthering the conversation would be intriguing.

Also, the majority of the audience that watches Harry Brown most likely did so because of Michael Caine. Caine, though, does not appear on the disc outside of the movie (and its deleted scenes). Perhaps this was a nod to other members of his generation who do not usually watch the special features. Still, his absence on the extras is less than a fantasy fulfilled, even if his movie makes up for it.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.