Letter From London: Raise a Glass to Cockney Vigilantism

We know you Americans like Michael Caine, by the way you keep producing dire remakes of his films. Okay, The Italian Job wasn't horrendous (although personally I'm more excited about the forthcoming Bollywood version, which Indian film chiefs have promised will feature "lots of singing and dancing," in case we didn't know what to expect), but our own Jude Law should be thrown into movie jail for participating in your pathetic reimagining of Alfie, and Stallone should be made to stand in the corner and have his HGH Club for Men Club membership revoked for what he did to Get Carter (which Caine briefly appears in, but my point still stands). But Brits love Michael Caine.

He's film royalty here, and has been dutifully talking to all manner of fawning journalists recently to promote Harry Brown. Movieline first reported on Brown back at TIFF -- it's a brainy, British Death Wish starring 76-year-old screen legend as the eponymous cardigan-fancier who goes native after his best pal is murdered by local hoodlums. Caine more or less reiterates the same things each time: he's concerned about the state of young people in Britain, he doesn't have any films in the pipeline (although he's contracted to "turn up as butler" if they make another Batman), and he waited a year and a half to do Harry Brown as it was the only script in that time that resonated with him.

The concept is too familiar for lazy reporters to discuss without mentioning Gran Torino, and I am no exception, although Harry Brown succeeds in areas that Eastwood's entertaining yet ridiculous yarn fails. Other than a couple of weak supporting characters and a slightly overblown climax, Harry Brown is a brutal, compelling drama with a palpable sense of threat; whereas Gran Torino's Boyz N The Hood-lite gangstas are about as scary as me, the kids in Harry Brown are recognisably horrible, nasty tykes with no moral compass, and the film is at times so scummy it makes Eastwood's epic seem like a fairytale. Also, Caine plays it totally straight, with no comical idiosyncrasies or one-liners, and scores extra points by not singing in the style of Gonzo from The Muppet Show over the end credits.

That's just how we roll, America. A world away from other contributions to the vigilante genre of late, such as France's utterly dumb Taken, and the pyrotechnic excesses of your own Law Abiding Citizen (both starring sons of the U.K., but they need to pay their mortgages somehow), these modern British Westerns play smaller, less hysterical, and infinitely more disturbing.

Pages: 1 2


  • David Davies says:

    Dead Man's Shoes never EVER fails to make me cry my arse off. Considine is magnificent in that film, as is Gary Stretch, a former professional boxer.