Michael Caine IS Harry Brown

Just a comment or two on Michael Caine’s superb latest offering – “Harry Brown”, not  mainstream as only showing at AMC as I write this.
Keep in mind that the following – is just my “take” on the subject matter .As a Brit I found it impossible to judge objectively; the vibe of this film is just too damn close to home for comfort.
Harry Brown – a pensioner, frail & vulnerable living several floors up in a Brixton high-rise estate; ex marine, haunted by loss. (don’t want to spoil the film for anybody).
Screen presence: at 76 years of age he still has it in spades. His ability to switch from the pathos of his personal plight to the steely eyed “stop at nothing” Michael that we’ve seen countless times up on the big screen was breathtaking. His portrayal of the elderly vigilante up against the yobs and the cops has to be an Oscar-worthy performance.
Whilst these gangs of thugs and scum (sorry it had to be said), operate on the margins of British Society, and whilst the film portrays the most extreme end of the spectrum, it represents what is fundamentally wrong with the UK today. Such an atmosphere of unease blights everyday living in these areas and it’s not confined to the big cities. Most sweet little countryside market towns enjoy (NOT) their fair share of “youth” trouble. It becomes an almost subliminal part of your life, in fact I only noticed that it existed in the UK when I moved to Canada and realized that being in crowds of people didn’t feel intimidating.
Don’t get me wrong, we have our fair share of gun crime in the outer parts of the city – thank you America –  but the trouble in the most part, doesn’t extend into the core or way out into the suburbs.
The popular belief nowadays is that a sense of entitlement pervades the Y generation the world over– see Chinese documentary “The Last Train Home”. http://www.eyesteelfilm.com/lasttrainhome for a shockingly familiar scene of teen meltdown/entitlement in a Chinese working-class environment. The teenage daughter’s absolute sense of what she ought to have, for doing nothing in essence, was in stark contrast to the documenting of her parents daily grind in the sweatshops of one of China’s industrial cities. Working brutal hours, and living in a “cupboard” in order to raise the cash to send the kids to school, the parents – rightly so – were totally focused on the school marks and scholarly achievements of their kids. The film profiles the most recent visit home during Chinese New Year. The couple have queued for days to get the “Last Train home” only to be greeted by a hormonal daughter “fffing and blinding” (what does that expression mean?) to the point of physical violence – My first thought after I’d uncovered my eyes was “that’s gratitude for you”. Followed by the realization that a similar scene plays out across the western world too.
My impression  – for what it’s worth – from having lived in the UK for most of my life and from being an outsider now looking in,  is that it appears to be more deep-rooted in the British psyche, either for historic reasons, or because this generation has in the main grown up untouched by war or dire need. As a historically warring nation, defending an island, the British have had to be aggressive, but when this aggression goes hand in hand with the lack of respect for people, and property that appears to pervade elements of British society – and it has to be said, some European countries – it threatens to undermine all that is/was good and great about Britain as a nation.
The scenes depicted in “Harry Brown” and to a certain extent in “Brick Lane” (although that film was more focused on racial issues), were shocking in the extreme, and whilst they might be dismissed simply as part of a powerful film, they are based on fact and actual events  – riots have occurred in just about every major city in the UK; primarily in the point-block concrete jungles of places like the Loughborough estate in Brixton, Cardiff, Oxford, Newcastle, Leeds and Bristol, to name just a few. The police cannot adequately control these areas; much less protect the silent and frightened majority who live there. These estates, built after the second world war amidst such a backdrop of hope and optimism for a new style of living in our Brave New World, have for one reason or another spawned a whole variety of social problems; urban drift, isolation and more particularly of late, a faction of disillusioned, no hopers who go on sprees of violence and vandelization. Who have become above, and beyond the long arm of the law. During one of the rioting scenes in the film, when hordes of riot police tried to hold their ground against fire-raising, Molotov bombing, bricks and bottle throwing after a series of arrests, I was reminded of “Lord of the Flies”, where all humanity and reason had gone, any veneer of civilization stripped away, leaving a violent, charged mass of frenzied (and as in the case of this film predominantly white) youth baying for blood.
I felt utterly drained as the credits rolled.
In my opinion this is such a courageous film; it will never make the audience feel good. On the contrary, it will likely leave its viewers in a state of shock and disbelief, especially those unfamiliar with Britain’s disturbing social underbelly. Bottom line – you will want to “cheer” Harry Brown on. Unfortunately, the film has not received rave reviews over here, probably because it graphically portrays a whole other side of Britain, and one that’s hard to stomach. It’ll be interesting to know how a British audience reacted to the film.
Over and Out

COMING UP:

CATS
FROM WILLIAM MORRIS TO CABBAGETOWN
SOCIETY CUT-UPS  at ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO
COFFEE IN THE SKY
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3 thoughts on “Michael Caine IS Harry Brown

  1. On the basis of that review – looking forward to seeing it actually. Michael Caine has always really confused me in that I can never really be sure whether he is a superb actor or indeed whether his career has simply been an enormous fluke.

    With regard to your rather more political comments, i couldn’t agree more. I am aware that there are those that would say that ‘It was ever thus’ in relation to the problems of youth – but it is fairly obvious to anyone looking seriously at social trends in the UK that something fundamental to ‘community-spirit’ has changed to the point that one wonders whether there is any real sense of community left here at all.

    Certainly, I don’t recall ever getting up to the kinds of things that are reported as occurring all over Britain today when I was younger. I also don’t recall my parents being frightened to approach groups of young people or tell them to clear off if they were being a nuisance. That said, what I do recall (and I don’t think I am simply being nostalgic) is that there was a sense in which the ‘village’ truly did raise children back then (70s). All of the adults in the street where I lived took responsibility for each other’s children and all the children (including teenagers!) accepted that this was the case. I don’t know when this changed – or what changed it (social mobility, increased migration) but something crucial was no doubt lost when it did.

    I could bang on about this for ages – but you probably wouldn’t thank me for it!!

    Thanks for the review and look forward to seeing the film without expecting to be uplifted by it!!

  2. Pingback: 2010 in review « Britgirlintoronto's Blog

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