Food, water, and shelter are generally considered necessities of life. I would also add "conflict" to the list, because I don't know of a life not filled with it in one form or another. As evidenced from the news around the world, it seems conflict is a constant, perpetuated in part by differences in race, religion, politics, and even opinions about trivial matters like sports franchises and movies (That's right, Blu-ray hobbyists). Yet, even the most disagreeable people can surely unite behind one idea: life's not fair.
It's a sentiment everyone has held at least once, if not throughout, their lives. It registers on an individual level in regards to matters like work or affairs of the heart and also on a societal level with issues such as the functioning of government and the judicial system. The problem is that we are taught to believe the contrary. The virtues of goodness and adages like "cheaters never prosper" are preached to us from a young age, yet we witness plenty of people over time not just surviving but even thriving doing whatever they damn well please. The schism this causes helps fuel discontent, which is why many enjoy and have such an affinity for stories where someone is trying to correct the perceived imbalances in the world.
Daniel Barber's 'Harry Brown' is just such a story, belonging to the vigilante subgenre whose most famous entry is the landmark film 'Death Wish' (1974) starring Charles Bronson. Here, Michael Caine is the titular character who ends up mad as hell and not taking it anymore. He's a former Royal Marine pushed to the breaking point by some of the local youths. The depth of the problem is revealed immediately in the opening sequence. Recorded on someone's cell phone are clips of public drug use and the random killing in a park of a mother with a baby in broad daylight. Harry does his best to go about his business but when the problem finally strikes close to home, he is compelled to take action after seeing the police and courts ineffective in protecting the public.
Although the story is familiar, it succeeds on the strength of Caine's captivating performance. He is still able to draw an audience's attention in an effortless way. Screenwriter Gary Young creates believable plot twists and a good amount of realism. The authenticity makes the story more frightening, and Harry isn't an infallible superhero. His plans don't always run flawlessly, and he draws the attention of Inspector Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer).
'Harry Brown' offers nothing new to the genre and it's not clear if the filmmakers intended a position regarding vigilantism. Although the bleakness can be a bit wearying, the film is entertaining and offers a nice bit of catharsis since everyone involved does their job very well.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures brings 'Harry Brown' to high-definition on a BD-50 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. After a trailer for Trailer for 'The Experiment', the menu screen comes up. It is reported to be Region A.
The video is presented with 1080p/ AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The color scheme is predominantly muted and the desaturated colors contribute to a bluish gray tint that hangs like a pall of gloominess, reflecting the mood of the citizenry. While blacks are faint, the image still shows good contrast.
Details are sharp when intended and contribute to the depth within the frame. Close-ups reveal the wrinkles in Caine's hands, the dried-up beer suds coating a glass, and concrete textures of buildings to name a few. However, the shadows do swallow things up, which works to visually help tell the story.
One of the better scenes to illustrate how great the transfer looks is Harry visiting a gravesite. Though the day is overcast, a couple of bright yellow flowers pop out of the frame. Individual blades of grass are easily differentiated.
There is also consumer-grade video footage used and it looks as expected.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track delivers the film's straightforward sound design competently. There is good amount ambiance in the surrounds, from small interiors like the hospital and the bar to the expansive exteriors within the urban jungle as cries and noises echo through the buildings. Gunfire rings out realistically through the system. The surrounds get more active and the subwoofer assists when police and local youths start rioting.
The dialogue comes through the front center channel clearly. The sound effects are positioned properly across the fronts to support the scene. Harry closes a door offscreen to the left and the sound comes from the left. The dynamics are lively and the elements are balanced well together overall.
For those who don't mind a bit of crime and violence, 'Harry Brown' is certainly worth seeing, especially for fans of Michael Caine, who seems unable to deliver a bad performance (except perhaps in 'Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.'). However, I do question whether I will be wanting repeat viewings, once seems enough. The pleasure I derived from the humorous commentary track and the fact that I couldn't immediately think of what other commentaries Caine participated in pushes me from "Give it a Rent" to "Recommended" as do the very solid A/V qualities on the disc.