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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Harry Brown



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#1 of 5 Richard Gallagher

Richard Gallagher

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Posted August 28 2010 - 03:29 PM

Harry Brown

 

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Studio: Sony
Year: 2009
Rated: R
Program Length: 103 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p
Languages: English DTS-HD MA
Subtitles: English, English SDH

The Program

It's not Northern Ireland, Harry.

No, it's not. Those people were fighting for something, for a cause. To them out there, this is just entertainment.


Here in America the word "estate" conjures up visions of something palatial, the sort of place where someone like Donald Trump would live. In England, however, the word is more likely to connote urban blight, because "estate" is what the English call low-income public housing. The worst of these, by most accounts, is Aylesbury estate, located in the south of London. One commentator recently called Aylesbury estate "one of the country's more disastrous experiments in postwar municipal housing - an experiment that has made the Aylesbury a byword for crime and deprivation." Aylesbury is the setting for Harry Brown, an exceptionally well-made, superbly acted, extremely violent and morally ambiguous thriller.

Michael Caine stars as the title character, a pensioner (retiree) whose wife lays virtually comatose on her death bed in the hospital. Harry visits her daily, walking to the hospital from his one-bedroom flat in an exceedingly drab building which would be entirely nondescript but for the graffiti which adorns many of the exterior walls. Sadly, Harry's wife is no longer aware of his presence when he visits. After his hospital visits he joins his only friend, Len Attwell (David Bradley) in a neighborhood pub for a game of chess. There Len bemoans the condition of the estate, which has become overrun by drug dealers and violent punks. Indeed, the film opens with the random killing of a young mother by two young gun-wielding hoodlums while they take a motorcycle joy ride through the grounds of the estate.

After Harry's wife dies, Len confides that he is so fearful when he goes out that he has taken to carrying a bayonet blade for self-defense. Harry, a former Royal Marine who fought the I.R.A. in Northern Ireland, is unsuccessful in his efforts to dissuade Len from arming himself. The following morning Harry is visited by two police officers, Detective Inspector Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer) and Detective Sergeant Terry Hicock (Charlie Creed-Miles). D.I. Frampton is new to this particular beat, but Sergeant Hicock and his comrades have become so jaded by the violence at the estate that they have come to refer to next-of-kin notifications as "death-o-grams." The officers have tragic news for Harry - Len's body has been found in a pedestrian tunnel where the local thugs have been known to congregate. There is no secret about who is responsible. The police immediately arrest Noel Winters (Ben Drew), the son of a career criminal, and several of Noel's associates, but the prisoners know the routine all too well and they refuse to talk. The authorities seem to be helpless.

Events then conspire to thrust a reluctant Harry into the breach. He becomes a vigilante reminiscent of Paul Kersey in Death Wish (1974). The difference here is that Harry, despite his combat experience, is a senior citizen who is trying to deal with criminals young enough to be his grandchildren. It is impossible not to root for Harry through a succession of gruesome, graphically violent encounters, but on an abstract level it is difficult to justify his vigilantism. Michael Caine is one of the world's finest actors, and well into his seventies he continues to deliver some of his best work. Emily Mortimer is excellent as the Detective Inspector who is appalled by the rampant criminality at the estate, but who is equally frustrated by her inability to do anything about it. The various actors who portray the vicious young punks do a superb job of creating truly frightening characters.

What Harry Brown fails to do is provide any real insight into why public housing projects such as Alyesbury estate have been allowed to degenerate into cesspools of criminality. And is there no way to clean them up, other than having the residents arm themselves and take the law into their own hands? As Detective Inspector Frampton asks at one point, "But where does it end?" One would hope that less drastic solutions exist, but there is no denying that Harry Brown offers a considerable degree of uneasy satisfaction.

The Video

This 2.35:1 1080p Blu-ray transfer by Sony is typically excellent. This is a very dark film, both in terms of content and appearance. The exteriors were shot on location in England at Aylesbury estate (which, incidentally, is in the process of being torn down and rebuilt), and everything about the place is depressingly drab. Black levels are solid and shadow detail is excellent, important considerations because almost all of the action takes place at night. An appropriate level of film grain has been retained, and as usual Sony has resisted any temptation to apply excessive DNR. Colors are accurate but deliberately muted. The photography effectively conveys the grimness of life at the estate. The 2.35:1 framing appears to correctly reflect the way the film was projected in theaters.

The Audio

The lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is exceptional. Dialogue is mostly confined to the center channels and it is clear and intelligible, although some viewers may want to engage the English subtitles from time to time to help decipher a few of the heavier British accents. The surround channels come alive during the action scenes with very realistic sounds of gunshots. There also is a harrowing scene of a police encounter with a street mob which involves exploding Molotov cocktails and the smashing of windows. Overall, the soundtrack does an excellent job of conveying the film's mood and atmosphere.

The Supplements

There are a just a few extras on this Blu-ray disc. It is always good to hear Michael Caine talk about his work, so the commentary track featuring the star, along with director Daniel Barber and producer Kris Thykier, is very welcome and worthwhile. Caine actually grew up near where Harry Brown was filmed (albeit many years ago), so the subject matter of the film is particularly relevant to him.

The only other extra, apart from Sony's usual MovieIQ feature, is a series of seven deleted scenes, all shown in high-definition 1.85:1. The film clearly was not composed to be shown at 1.85:1, because overhead microphones can be seen in several of the deleted scenes. The first deleted scene helps to flesh out the character of Detective Inspector Frampton. Visually, the deleted scenes have a somewhat washed-out appearance. This is the first Sony Blu-ray which I have reviewed in some time which does not have any BD-Live features.

The Packaging

The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

The Final Analysis

Harry Brown is an undeniably thrilling but troubling film. Fans of Michael Caine will want to see him at the top of his game, but those who are uncomfortable about graphic depictions of violence and drug use may prefer to give this a pass.

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: August 31, 2010


Rich Gallagher

#2 of 5 Adam Gregorich

Adam Gregorich

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Posted October 01 2010 - 02:29 PM

I finally had the opportunity to watch this.  What a performance by Michael Caine!  There are some parts that are a bit hard to watch, and I thought they went for a happy ending instead of something that would have explored the consequences of his actions more.  I'm surprised that there hasn't been more discussion on this.  If you haven't seen it I highly recommend it.  If you have, what did you think?




Best line of the movie:

"You failed to maintain your weapon son"



#3 of 5 Felix Martinez

Felix Martinez

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Posted October 02 2010 - 04:44 AM

Really enjoyed this film.  The scene where Harry Brown goes to buy a gun had me on the edge of my seat and squinting with disgust.  Sean Harris just blew me away in that scene.  Wow.  And I had just seen the Red Riding trilogy, so I'm truly impressed with his work.


BTW, this production used the Sony F35 digital camera.



#4 of 5 Ralphie_B

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Posted October 04 2010 - 05:46 AM

Yeah, that scene was fantastic.  The downright filthiness was just palpable, and I felt like I needed to scrub myself with a Brillo pad afterward.  So well staged and played.  And of course, as mentioned above, it led into possibly the best dialog (well, monologue really) in the film.


#5 of 5 PaulDA

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Posted October 04 2010 - 03:23 PM

Great film and one reminiscent of the best of 70s era gritty dramas (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Serpico--not in content so much as mood and setting).  A fine performance by Caine and one I will watch again for sure.  As for the consequences of vigilantism, I think Caine manages to leave the impression that he will remain troubled by how he responded (his plea to the bar owner to "do me a favour" speaks to that).  Caine also brings a level of nuance and sophistication to the performance that, in the hands of a lesser actor, would likely result in an unfortunate and simplistic "yeah!  Kill the bastards!" kind of payoff.  To me, his performance offsets any charges of glorification of vigilantism.


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