Harry Brown (2009) Michael Caine Starring as WWII Vet

If Gran Torino had been good it would have been Harry Brown. This is one hell of a gritty movie. A pretty unvarnished look at today’s Britain. If you are in a somewhat no-future, modern-life-is-pointless-and-ugly mood, better stay away from Harry Brown as it will certainly not cheer you up. If you like movies like Let the Right One In (The Swedish film!!!), then you might like it although there are no vampires in this movie, only very ugly and depraved humans.

Harry Brown (Michael Cane) is a lonely man. He spends his time visiting his wife at the hospital or playing chess with his only friend Leonard. When his wife dies there is only Leonard left. The two men live in the same depressing housing estate, somewhere on the outskirts of a big British city. Local gangs are roaming the neighbourhood day and night and some of the places and pedestrian walkways are far from safe. Violence and drug trafficking go on, people who pass are molested and harmed. The kids from the gangs are a bunch of real scum, the lowest of the low. No education, no future, only using and abusing.

Harry and Leonard regularly meet in a bar nearby where they play chess. Leonard has been the gangs’ target for a while. They hustle him, threaten him, shove dog shit into his letter box. The old man is terrified and cannot take it any longer. One afternoon he tells his friend that he is now armed. He is carrying an old bayonet and, if necessary, will defend himself.

Not long after this conversation two detectives (Emily Mortimer and Charlie Creed-Miles) come to see Harry Brown to tell him, that his friend has been killed. Beaten up and stabbed to death. Four young blokes are arrested, one more horrible than the other, some in and out of prison and coming from families in which the father, uncle or some other male relative is constantly in prison. The police questioning shows them from their ugliest side. They verbally abuse the female detective, swear and cheer because they know there is no evidence.  Despite their obvious violent tendencies, the police have to let them go.

And that’s when Harry Brown takes a decision. He will avenge his friend. After the first gang members and drug dealers are found dead, the police now shifts from looking for the murderers to trying to catch a vigilante.

Up to now it may seem as if it wasn’t justified to include Harry Brown in this blog but the fact that Harry Brown is an ex-Marine and has served in WWII is important and gets even more important from the moment he decides to take justice into his own hands.

This isn’t a glossed over movie with a tacky ending, this is a tale that might happen, that shows an ugly reality that is far from overdrawn. It also takes a close look at the frailty and loneliness old age can bring.

Harry Brown is one of those old-school soldiers who never spoke about what happened in the war, who possibly tried to avoid thinking of it. The loss of his wife and friend and the brutality of the murder triggers something and liberates him.

Funny enough, this is as well a movie of vengeance as a movie of closure. It’s not pretty, it’s not nice but it’s highly watchable and it shows an absolutely excellent Michael Caine.

Advertisements

In the Valley of Elah (2007): A Stunning Anti-Iraq War Movie

This was a surprisingly good movie with a profound anti-war statement. I don’t know why I did not watch it earlier. Somehow it escaped my radar.  I have seen quite a few Iraq war movies and thought I had seen all possible aspects. Well, I was wrong. In the Valley of Elah is a very unusual, interesting look at the war in Iraq and what it does to young soldiers, but it is also a reflection on the changes in values of soldiers. It’s a quite complex movie. To choose the form of a thriller to tell what the director wanted to tell is quite cunning. Even though it’s not a fast movie and  it takes its time to unfold what happened, it is still gripping. The time was needed as it also tries to illustrate a change in perceptions. The father who is looking for his son at the beginning of the movie will not be the same person at the end. There will be no more idealizing the military or the value and honor of soldiers.

Tommy Lee-Jones plays the above mentioned father, the retired military police officer, Hank Deerfield. He did tours in Vietnam and Korea. The military is his life. No wonder both of his sons follow the same career path. The older one became a chopper pilot, the younger, Mike, is a private who served first in Bosnia and then in Iraq.

At the beginning of the movie Hank gets a phone call informing him his son Mike is AWOL. Hank thought he was still in Iraq and doesn’t understand why Mike did not contact him. He immediately drives to the base that is located a few thousand miles away. Being a former military police investigator, he wants  to look for his son on his own. This is not much appreciated by Mike’s superiors. Hank has another reason for wanting to look for Mike. A strange phone call from his son while he was still in Iraq made him very uneasy. Something terrible must have happened there.

Hank does not get much assistance at the beginning. Neither Mike’s superiors nor his comrades are helpful. And when he goes to the police and speak to Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) he is turned down. The military has to look for its personnel, as she informs him.

Even though she seems to be hardened, Emily has a very soft spot. And when Mike’s´ severely mutilated body is found and she realizes the military wants to cover up the murder she decides to help Hank to find out who did it. They start to  investigate together. The closer they come to the truth, the more Hank has to accept the fact that he did not really know his son and that he has no clue what is going on in Iraq. With the help of a film on Mike’s phone and bits and pieces of information from comrades he understands that this is not Korea or Vietnam and these soldiers are of a different kind. He is disillusioned and shocked about what he finds out. And so is the viewer.

This is a multi-layered, well written and well told  tale that is apparently based on true events. We have a multitude of themes here. Changes in the society and its values that also affect soldiers. What does it mean to be a good father? What values do you teach your children? Will they be able to live according to these values when everything around them falls apart? How do you keep young soldiers sane when they become aware that they are part of something that is pointless and wrong?

It is also interesting to think that a veteran probably does not equal a veteran but that it makes a big diference what war a soldier fought in.

The cast of this movie is very well-chosen. Tommy Lee-Jones looks convincingly tired, disillusioned and world-weary. Susan Sarandon‘s despair is palpable and Charlize Theron manages to play a woman whose life is all but a picnic and still looks perfectly beautiful as ususal. Although not Jason Patric´s best role, he is OK as well.