I have been working my way through Netflix while I am on the six-month free trial that comes with Virgin Media. The selection on Netflix comes in for a lot of criticism because it is not a place where you will find loads of recent blockbusters (about the only film on there that is both huge and recent is The Hobbit) but more like the sort of films that you will find on ITV4.
For me it is not working out too badly because I realise that have missed out on a lot of films in the last decade so a lot of them are new to me. Today I decided to watch Harry Brown. The description of the film wasn’t terribly tempting (Caine is an ex-marine who turns vigilante when his only friend is killed by feral youths) but I thought I would give it a go.
It turned out to be extremely watchable, but terribly depressing. Even Ken Loach would probably watch this and think it was a bit much. Most of it was filmed in that huge estate behind the Elephant & Castle. I never spent much time around there, despite only living a few miles away for a long time but if I thought it was half as bad as portrayed in the film I would have spent even less time there. But maybe things are that bad (or got that bad since I left London).
When I saw the description of “ex-marine” in the short blurb for the film I had visions of the sort of thing that usually means in a movie – retired soldier who still keeps in shape, has a pile of his old weapons stashed away somewhere, and still effortlessly beats up people 50 years younder than him. That is how it usually works in American films, especially if its a big name actor playing the part, so it was refreshing to see Michael Caine playing his age properly.
Harry Brown is not an ex-marine in the the sense of somebody whose life is defined by that, but just a pensioner who happened to be in the forces a long time ago and moved on, and the film is all the better for that element of realism.
The depiction of an estate where anyone who is not one of the drug-dealing hoodies lives in fear of them is properly scary – and special credit has to go to Plan B for his part as one of the gang leaders. I didn’t even realise it was him. Just thought he looked a bit familiar but couldn’t quite place him.
The film is well worth watching, though it is probably too grim to count as entertainment. I was even to overlook the one detail that will irk Londoners and ex-Londoners alike: the way the South London estate is just around the corner from the Camden canal tow path.