HARRY BROWN ***
Unbelievably, just as Clint Eastwood declares he will no longer appear on film but just work his magic as a director behind the camera, comes the guilty pleasure that is HARRY BROWN, the kind of right-wing fantasy that Clint revelled in throughout his long career as an actor before he got all lefty and soft as a director. Clint made his mark in westerns where he wasted bad dudes left, right and centre, but it was really DIRTY HARRY where he became known for killing black people and other assorted vermin on the streets of America. DIRTY HARRY was a tremendous film, but, in many ways, it is also tremendously distasteful – its portrait of a cop who decides to throw away the rulebook is surely not the way we, in the twenty-first century, would like our law-enforcement to be delivered. Likewise, Michael Winner’s film DEATH WISH, starring Charles Bronson (always a poor man’s Eastwood) gave us the guilty pleasure – the ugly thrill – of watching a “nice” man lost everything (his wife and daughter, raped as well as murdered) to a gang of marauding “punks” – but, in that film’s case, the villains were so ludicrously portrayed, their black skins and red leather jackets so pre-emptive of Michel Jackson’s idiotic “Beat It” video clip, that the movie now languishes as a terrible folly – not so much a guilty pleasure as a guilty sin.
And now we get HARRY BROWN – another revenge fantasy for the disenfranchised saints who are constantly being beaten up – metaphorically and physically – by the horrendous youth of today. Harry Brown himself, as played (and played brilliantly, with not a step wrong) by 77-year old Sir Michael Caine – is an old pensioner with two loves left: his wife and his best mate. When they both die in the first act of the film, Harry recalls the reserves that he had as a Marine – and he decides to fight back.
Interestingly, the film is neither DEATH WISH nor DIRTY HARRY. It has a lot more heart than the former and a lot more angst than the latter. It is also an incredibly visceral experience, keeping you at once thrilled, saddened, at times sickened (the film’s depiction of sordid depravity on London’s heroin-stricken fringes is not so much gut-wrenching as gut-churning) and at times ludicrously excited, as we join Harry’s mission of vengeance, primed, as we are, by the brutality of his abject and terribly compromised later life.
Interestingly, this well-made, well-directed, incredibly well-acted (especially by Mr. Caine) film suffers for not knowing whether it wants to be a true piece of exploitative gun-slinging, vengeance-fuelled propaganda or a think-piece on modern British city management and culture. The (welcome) prescence of the excellent Emily Mortimer as a concerned cop does the film no favours. Her gravitas – exemplified by her almost unparalleled ability to look concerned about everything in the entire world – is too much for a film that, when it comes down to it, is all about watching Michael Caine waste punks with a big big gun. It’s a B movie masquerading as a B-plus, but it doesn’t deserve the care and quality it’s given here: It is so sordid at times, and the whole tone is so relentlessly grim and ugly, that it feels like it should have at least made a stronger commitment, one way or the other: As it is, the film’s politics are all over the place – blaming everyone at once, not blaming anyone at all – while, stylistically, it is so grim and savage that only those who have grown up with the Eastwoods, Bronsons and chavs could possibly want to go near it. As a Michael Caine vehicle (he is in every scene of the movie), it is a dark, sordid experiment that reminds you of his Jack Carter in GET CARTER, older, weaker, sadder, but still capable of pulling a trigger; others will find this very dark, violent and depressing tale too dark, too violent – and too depressing.
FOOD INC. ****1/2
Robert Kenner’s incredibly thorough documentary about the food industry in the United States is sober stuff, but told with great wit and humour even as it confirms our worst fears. Exposing many of the most repellent aspects of the gigantic industry – including the illusion of choice in America’s supermarkets, the horrendous additives in pretty much all fast food, the extreme mistreatment of animals in the farming sector, genetically modified foods and in particular the use of hybrid, genetically modified corn as the basis for the vast majority of food sold in the US, the film packs no less a relevant punch in Australia, while also allowing us at least to be vigilant and take care that the worst aspects of America’s corporate food behemoths do not ultimately reproduce as grotesquely on our shores. Unmissable – and Oscar-nominated this year for Best Feature Length Documentary.