About Me

My photo
I'm a longtime contributor to MTV, Billboard, Alternative Press and MovieWeb. I've worked as on-air reporter, host, writer and producer for MTV, MSNBC and E!. I have provided opinion and commentary to programs on VH1, IFC, G4, Fuse, Current and Oxygen. I have written for Huffington Post, Premiere, OC Weekly, SFGate.com, NextMovie.com, MTV's television and movie blogs and other publications. I am the founder of Superhero Productions, providing broadcast, online and aftermarket content for a number of clients including Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros. I personally handle artist management for a handful of bands. "Ryan Downey has established a history of breaking some good scoops in the last few years, and you could certainly do worse than bookmark [him] to check in on." -- Ain't It Cool

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Movie Review: "Harry Brown"

Directed by: Daniel Barber
Starring: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer
3 Stars

"Harry Brown" is basically the British "Gran Torino," without the laughs.

In this familiar but strong revenge tale, Michael Caine is the widower in a neighborhood that's gone to hell. "Harry Brown" is a grim movie with a hero more vulnerable but no less badass than Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" antihero.

"Dirty Harry" and "The Unforgiven" are two other Eastwood pictures that come to mind. But Eastwood isn't in front of the camera, nor behind it. "Harry Brown" is directed by Daniel Barber, whose bleak depiction of life in the projects of London occasionally employs jittery camera phone footage to surprisingly striking effect.

A reserved and quiet man, Harry Brown is living out the twilight of his life in a plain apartment where he used to play chess with his late wife (adding to the pathos, the pair lost a young child back in the '70s), occasionally dropping by the local pub to sip a pint with another old pensioner, Leonard Atwell (played by David Bradley).

Brown does his best to ignore the rampant violence of the neighborhood thugs. And boy, is it ever violent. The movie goes to great lengths to make us hate the drug dealers, pimps and gang members who populate the housing project. It's a bit reminiscent of "The Crow" insomuch as you can sense each villain is being introduced so viciously only to ensure the audience will revel in their eventual destruction by the hero.

After the harmless and defenseless Leonard Atwell is murdered, Caine unlocks his long buried military training to exact vigilante vengeance. The movie never tells us what, exactly, Harry Brown got up to as a Royal Marine, but it doesn't have to. When we see him kidnap then interrogate someone with a rubber hose, we know enough.

Emily Mortimer is saddled with a cliche ridden role as a the only cop who figures it out, the cop who gets reassigned from the case by her mean old boss, the cop whose partner doesn't respect her. She puts in a serviceable performance, but "Harry Brown" is indisputably the Michael Caine show.

Caine has been in so many movies that his IMDB page looks like the Dead Sea Scrolls. He brings such incredible presence, such deep soulfulness and such working class but refined dignity to this role that his performance fills in a few blanks on the page.

Barber is as skilled directing Caine and Emily Mortimer sipping tea in his flat as he is orchestrating a violent riot. And he's at his best when sticking to the movie's central theme. "This isn't Northern Ireland, Harry," Mortimer says to Caine at one point. He readily agrees. Those people were fighting for a cause. "To them out there, this is just entertainment."

"Harry Brown" stumbles a bit when it tries to address class issues. The under-privileged in this movie are conniving, remorseless, angry, unpredictable animals. So when we see them rioting against the police, it isn't clear what the movie is trying to say. Otherwise, "Harry Brown" is strong as a revenge thriller where we get to see awful people destroyed by someone good we've come to like a great deal.

Many folks will understandably recoil at the brutal violence depicted in "Harry Brown" and they would do best to avoid it. But if you have a soft-spot for movies like "Death Wish," as I do, this movie will get the job done for you.

In other words, "Harry Brown" just might make your day.

No comments: