UK 2009   Directed by: Daniel Barber Written by: Gary Young Produced by: Matthew Vaughn, Kris Thykier, Matthew Brown, Keith Bell Cinematography by: Martin Ruhe  Editing: Joe Walker  Music: Martin Phipps, Ruth Barrett, Pete Tong, Paul Rogers Cast: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Ben Drew, Charlie Creed-Miles, David Bradley, Jack O’Connell, Liam Cunningham

Every vengeance flick runs on the same line: no matter who the protagonist is, usually someone who isn’t a likely candidate to go on a killing spree, s/he finally loses it from a life of normality and gets pushed too far that all hell breaks loose, and the evildoers now must run for their lives. Now, because it’s a genre film, every filmmaker tries to put a new spin on the old formula, in this case, an old widower who has nothing in his life but a best mate who finally falls victim to neighborhood gang violence.

Michael Caine plays the title character. With two Oscars under his belt, he’s comfortably numb in the role – never quite vulnerable but never quite vengeful either. He’s an ex-military who knows his way around firearms. After old buddy got murdered by teenage kids in a deteriorating English community, Harry Brown gets his hands on a bag full of guns and ammo, and turns into a vigilante. But he never really went all out. With his experience in the war, the film would have been much more entertaining had Harry raised the stakes and went after anyone and everyone. But he didn’t. Instead, he wanted only the one little punk who personally had had the last stroke in his buddy’s death. How moral of him.

In the midst of all this, two special agents investigating the neighborhood crimes popped in and out of Harry’s life, latching onto Harry with inconsequential questions. The two investigators, headed by agent Frampton (Emily Mortimer), sniff around like two lost dogs, never really quite knew what they were looking for nor had the canines to sink into anybody’s business.

The one meaty scene was when Harry approached the local dealer for guns. The head dealer, Stretch, was played to a perfect pitch by Sean Harris, who reminded me a cross between Hannibal Lecter and Brando’s Col. Kurtz (APOCALYPSE NOW). Stretch looked like a hungry lizard watching Harry negotiating and reasoning his way into purchasing a handgun. It was a scene waiting to explode, and you felt the muscle twitching in both characters.

But, just when the ball started rolling, it fell flat again. The central character just didn’t carry enough oomph to pull us through. Even the blood splatters seemed a few drops short of real thrill – never really quite got me out of my seat. And that pretty much paints the picture for this film – constantly attempting to go for the gold but too concerned about pulling a muscle. And that’s why there was DEATH WISH 5, and likely no HARRY BROWN 2: BLOOD PRESSURE.


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