A Review: Harry Brown

In the second scene of Harry Brown a man wakes up to the monotonous drone of his alarm clock. The 6:30am news is on and there is yet another story of an MP in disgrace. The subsequent – and therefore less significant – story describes the opening scene which we have just watched.

This opening scene is filmed on mobile phones and show a boy’s drug infused induction into a gang. Following Markey’s induction this scene cuts to two boys joyriding a motorcycle through the tight overpasses and walkways of the estate. Although the picture is grainy and the footage shaky it is clear that they have a gun with them, and that they enjoy shooting it.

In the distance we can see a woman pushing a pram along and the shaky camera becomes more steady as it becomes clear that she is this pair’s target. To intimidate here they ride close to her and turn around and make a pass again. She is now visibly shaken and screaming at them.

These boys are really enjoying this now, so the one brandishing the gun begins to fire off rounds. She bends down to shield her child and the boys laugh, they are really enjoying their new game.

And then something goes wrong. A stray bullet does as stray bullets do and tears into the woman’s neck. We see her crumple and die in front of her two and a half year old child.

The pair are terrified by what they have done and accelerate away, the camera becomes as shaky and unfocussed as it was before. The picture only becomes clear again some seconds later after the pair have been knocked down by a lorry and their helmetless heads braised on the road.

Harry Brown is a bleak film. In one scene there is rape, drug taking, a non-fatal stabbing, a non-fatal shooting, two fatal shootings, and then a cannabis factory is burned down. This sounds over the top, but in reality it appears grittily realistic in places and is reminiscent of the best of British film making.

Crime and Punishment explored the idea that suffering can lead to redemption, Harry Brown explores the idea that revenge can lead to a new meaning in life. While revenge makes fantastic viewing it can make for a somewhat two dimensional social commentary.

Ex-Marine Harry Brown, in quick succession, loses his wife and only friend. His wife is killed by an unspecified illness and his friend is killed confronting the people who have been terrorising the estate on which he lives. Left without his wife and facing a life surrounded by the people who killed his friend Harry decides to seek vengeance.

Harry’s actions spark a “zero-tolerance” crackdown from the police which is credited with a 30% reduction in crime on the estate. At the end of the film, a cringe worthy press conference leads us all in no doubt that – contrary to what the police commissioner is announcing – it was Harry Brown who killed a few wrong ‘uns and brought peace to a blighted land.

While the reasons for Harry’s actions are made clear, the problem I had with the movie is that the behaviour of Harry’s targets is described with too much cod-psychology and with too little reference to their material situation.

We have Markey, who’s induction we saw in the opening scene. He was shuttled between foster homes and sexually abused while in them too. The father of Noel, the gang leader, is described as some shadowy crimelord, whose shoes Noel has merely filled. Another claims that his violence is only a product of the violence around him; his brother was stabbed and the police offered no help. One gang member is a heroin addict, who’s attempt to mug Harry leads to the first of the gang’s fatalities.

The movie draws together all of these deeply flawed individuals as “criminals.” Throughout the film the only people in regular employment are a solitary bartender, hospital staff and police officers. Beyond this the worklessness, and subsequent sense of worthlessness, of the gang members is not touched upon.

In Dead Man’s Shoes Shane Meadows explores the same topic of revenge. In this, revenge leads the protagonist to be become everything he despised; “You were supposed to be the monster…now I’m the fucking beast” Paddy Consadine cries at the end. On the other hand, Harry Brown wants us to believe that revenge will lead to a new start and a new meaning in life.

The film begins with a man who has lost everything in his life but who finds temporary refuge in revenge. In the the final scene the director wants to leave us  with the belief that Harry has found meaning in his life but he fails in this task.

If you want to analyse this movie then you must conclude that this film fails in some rather important ways. It fails to resolve the story at the heart of it – what next for Harry Brown? – and it fails to address the social problems which really lead inner city estates to such deprivation.

I don’t want to put people off seeing an incredibly enjoyable film; the cinematography is excellent, the acting is believable and the dialogue is snappy. Do watch this film for entertainment, so long as  you go elsewhere for politics.