Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Harry Brown

Harry Brown is a film which every politician, policeman, media worker, social and community worker should see, not because it is a great film or because of the questionable morality, but because it paints an accurate picture of the teenage gang world on particular local authority run estates of flat block tenements. Although not a great film there is a brilliant performance of Michael Caine, one of his finest.

He is Harry Brown an ex marine with decorated service in Northern Island who suffers from emphysema and is struggling on his own as his wife lays dying in hospital. Apart from visiting her he plays chess with a friend at the estate pub close to a canal. At the pub his friend notices that the Inn keeper is allowing a young thug drug trafficker to trade on the premises, One night he observers the estate gang of hoodies beat up a visitor who complains about the youths damaging his car. Harry observers but takes no action. Harry also avoids the quick route traffic safe underpass to the pub because it is controlled by the hoodies. Harry wants to live and let live and warns his chess playing friend about talking out loud about the behaviour of the youth in the pub.

The friend joins Harry at the cemetery as Harry visits the grave of his wife after she dies. The Friend asks Harry about his service days and did he ever kill someone. Harry says this is something he has not talked about since meetings and marrying his wife. The reason for this question is that his friend, played by the also excellent David Bradbury, has become scared and stressed by the estate gangs who had put excrement through his letter box and scrawled graffiti and then pushed through lighted papers cause a minor fire. He shows Caine a bayonet which he is now carrying in self defence. Caine is concerned at this and tells him to report the situation to the police. He says he has done this with no change in the situation.

A short while afterwards his friend is hacked to death with the bayonet and later the same female police Inspector calls with her sergeant who advised of the death, to say that because it looks as if the Bayonet belonged to the friend and they will have to reduce the charge from murder to manslaughter. Caine comments that’s if the case ever gets to court.

From the vantage point of the trashed flat of his friend he observes the underpass gang beating up another young man attempting to go through the passageway with his girl friend who they start to assault. The young man and the girl manage to get away but unable to continue their planned journey.

This in retrospect in the incident where Harry says to himself enough is enough. The trigger for taking action occurs after he leaves the pub and goes along the canal path and is stopped by a drug addict to demand the money he has on him brandishing a knife. Caine manages to turn the knife back onto the man who dies. Caine returns home and takes off all his clothing which he bins. The police assume the death of a known addict is the result of some dispute. Caine now goes to a drug suppliers who are also known to sell guns. They appear crazed and dangerous and lead Caine through a cannabis growing area to where they keep the weapons. There is a girl in a drug stupor who appears to be in a coma. Caine expresses concern but this is ignored and he is invited to abuse the girl and they offer to sell him Viagra if required.

When they produce the weapon, Caine stabs one of the two men in order to get hold of the gun and then kills the two mean setting fire to their place as he leaves, but taking the unconscious girl out to the trafficker’s four wheeled vehicle and leaving the girl outside the accident and emergency unit of the nearest hospital.

He had taken away the supply of weapons and ammunition and also finds several thousands pounds. He leave £1000 with the girl and gives the rest to a local church. The female Inspector who asked to work in the area begins to have suspicions about Caine and has undertaken some work about his background. The situation comes to a head when Caine watches one of the underpass gang get drugs from a dealer in car. There is a row about payments with the consequence that one of the gang goes with the man in a car to bring him sexual relief. Caine manages to track them down (this is least plausible aspect of the film) and shoots the drug dealer and takes the young man prisoner. He takes him to the home of his former friend and starts to torture him. To save his life he gives Caine his mobile phone on which there is film of the killing and the killer.

This is one of the young men who was interviewed by the police and who behaves aggressively especially to the police Sergeant who was responsible for getting the conviction of the youth’s father. Caine uses the youth, he has taken prisoner, as a shield to approach the killer and another who are at the point of having sex with two local girls in the underpass. There is a shoot out and two of the three youths are killed but the killer runs off along the canal bank where Caine collapses from his lung condition, throwing the gun into the canal.

The local police commander believes that a drug war has broken out and decided on zero tolerance approach planning a raid on the homes of a dozen suspects from the estate and calls a meeting to plan the action. Instead of attending the meeting the Police Inspector and her Sergeant calls in at the hospital to see Caine where he has been kept since discovered on the tow path. She believes he is responsible for the spate of deaths and this is reinforced when she smells cordite on some clothing. The area commander is not interested when the two return late for the briefing and announces that he has arranged for the Inspector to be transferred to a different type of police work.

The films then reaches its climax. Caine decides to leave the hospital and makes his way home. The police raid commences and local youth riot as the arrests begin. They use petrol bomb against he police with riot shields. The Police Inspector and the Sergeant have also gone to the raid and their vehicle is ambushed and badly damaged. Caine arrives and gets them out where the Sergeant is wounded and needs hospital treatment. He takes him and the Inspector to the local pub where he asks the landlord to call for an ambulance. He goes to find what is keeping the landlord while the Inspector calls for help on her phone. He finds that the landlord is not making the call and that the landlord is not only the uncle of the killer but hiding him. There is a fight and Caine appears to be knocked out. The landlord then kills the injured Sergeant with his hands and tells his nephew to get rid of the police Inspector in the same way. Caine revives and has a second gun at his ankle and shoots the young killer before he is able to kill the police inspector. However the landlord is able gain control of the situation until we the audience can see that a police marksman has targeted him and he is shot dead.

The film ends with the area commander holding a media conference to comment on the results of the inquiry into the situation. He announces that bravery medals have been awarded to the Sergeant and the Police Inspector who is present. He then goes on to dismiss rumour about a vigilante being responsible for some of the killings. The Inspector leaves the briefing satisfied or keeping her mouth shut as Harry had saved her life. The final scene is Harry using the underpass which is clean, quiet and safe.
The film has a better quality than the Dirty Harry series for example. No civilised person will support the taking of the law into ones own hands in the way of Caine in this film although we can understand his frustration. In addition to excellent acting performance of Caine I felt the portrayal of the young men was authentic from my experience of such individuals. Apart from the weekend teenage audience I cannot think many will regard this film as entertaining but it will remain an important social document.

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