Author: Gary Young
Writer’s Potential: 8
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An elderly ex-marine takes matters into his own hands when a gang of crack-smoking thugs murder his best friend.
Grainy, blurry camera-phone footage shows a youth gang, led by NOEL, smoking crack and acting foolish. Noel encourages two of his minions to kill somebody, for fun and to “earn their stripes.” The two thugs take off on a minibike and, in their successful attempt to shoot a young mother in cold blood, end up in a bike accident that results in the death of one and the hospitalization of the other.
At the murder site the following morning, DETECTIVE INSPECTOR FRAMPTON (attractive, female, mid-40s) is briefed on the scene by SERGEANT HICKOCK (cocky, male, mid-30s). His callous description of the crime and the injured minibike passenger in custody offends Frampton, but she keeps it to herself for the moment.
HARRY BROWN, an elderly retiree, awakens to a lonely routine, making breakfast for one, obsessively cleaning, puttering around the house before getting dressed up and leaving. As he walks through his neighborhood, the same crime-ridden cesspool where the opening murder took place, Harry makes no sign of fear until he reaches a fork in the road. He has two options: head into the drugged-out gigglefest emanating from a darkened subway tunnel, or keep walking along the less direct overland route. Harry chooses the safer road.
At the hospital, Harry visits her cancer-stricken wife. He has an obvious love for her, but she’s not lucid. At the rundown Drift Pub, Harry has a drink with his best friend, LEONARD, another elderly retiree. They start to play a game of chess and, after witnessing a public drug-dealing inside the pub, Harry and Leonard discuss the declining state of the neighborhood. Leonard mentions that the dealer, a tattooed thug called KENNY, is known for selling drugs, guns, and underage prostitutes. He also suggests that SID, the Drift’s owner, lets Kenny slide within the pub because Sid, too, is a criminal.
Harry visits his local convenience store and discovers, to his surprise, a towering man guarding the door. The shopkeeper, MRS. SINGH, explains that she had to hire her brother-in-law to keep out undesirables. Harry goes home with a pint of scotch and falls asleep, drinking and watching television. He’s awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call—his wife has passed away.
A month later, Leonard accompanies Harry on a visit to his wife’s headstone. It turns out he also once had a daughter—she died 25 years ago, at age 13, and her headstone sits next to his wife’s. Harry places a fresh bouquet and quietly grieves. To ligthen the mood, Leonard offers another drink. Harry agrees.
At the pub, Harry describes the first time he met his wife, back when he was in the Marines. Leonard indelicately tries to coax some information about Harry’s experience in the Marines. Harry won’t say any more than that he spent 15 years in the service and he left when he met his wife. In the privacy of the restroom, Leonard shows Harry an ancient, huge bayonet for protection. He’s tired of living in fear of these youth gangs, who have recently shoved dog feces through his mail slot. Harry suggests that he go to the police. Leonard says he already has.
That night, the punks shove burning trash through Leonard’s mail slot. Once they’re gone, Leonard takes his bayonet and seeks them out in the subway tunnel.
The next morning, Harry is awakened by Frampton and Hickock. They’ve found Leonard’s body and are there to ask routine questions about what may have happened. Afterward, Hickock brushes off the experience with cynicism. Frampton finally lashes out at him. The two seek out Noel, their prime suspect in Leonard’s murder, and arrest him.
In his sadness, Harry gets plowed at the Drift Pub. In his state, he ends up flashing more cash than he should, considering the neighborhood. Sid warns him, but Harry doesn’t seem concerned. Outside, he’s assaulted. Instinctively, Harry breaks the man’s wrist and, when he won’t give up the attempted mugging, Harry kills him with his bare hands. Frightened, Harry rushes home, disposes of his bloody clothes, cleans up, and goes to sleep.
The next morning, Harry examines his old Marine memorabilia when Frampton shows up unannounced. They have a flirtatious discussion about chess before Frampton gets down to business: she wants to know about the bayonet. Harry reluctantly admits he knew about it, but that Leonard only used it for protection. They get into an argument about the effectiveness of the police over vigilante justice. Later, Harry goes to the Drift and bribes Sid for information on where to find Kenny.
Harry seeks out Kenny and asks to buy a gun. Reluctantly, Kenny and his friend STRETCH lead him through their hovel, which contains an indoor marijuana farm, high-grade electronics, and a drugged-out, barely conscious girl. Aghast at their treatment of the girl, Harry ends up killing both Kenny and Stretch, stealing their guns and ammo, burning their marijuana, and stealing their car and the girl. In the car, he finds ¬£10,000. He leaves 1000 for her and keeps the rest. Harry drives her to a hospital but ditches the car before he’s seen.
As a result of the gun violence, Frampton’s superintendant, CHILDS, pulls her and Hickock off the investigation into Leonard’s murder in favor of a new violence-removing task force.
At the convenience store, the brother-in-law bodyguard has disappeared into the bathroom. Harry happens to show up, inconveniently, just before a robber descends on the shop. Harry stabs his Achilles tendon, which stops his robbery in short order. The bodyguard returns and pummels the robber into unconsciousness. At the graves of his wife and daughter, Harry asks forgiveness for what he has done. Within the church, he asks forgiveness for what he’s going to do.
Harry sets up recon on Noel, observing his entire operation and assessing the best time, place, and way to strike. He follows a drug trafficker (TROY) and one of Noel’s pals (MARKY) to a vacant lot, shoots Troy in the head, and interrogates Marky about Leonard. After trying to stall him, Marky finally admits that they recorded the whole thing on his cell phone. He plays the video for Harry. Harry kidnaps Marky to use as bait. They return to the subway. Noel and another thug, CARL, corner him, so Harry unleashes a homemade explosive. He manages to kill both Marky and Carl, but Noel gets away. Harry tries to chase him, but a breathing problem that has plagued him since the beginning catches up with him. He throws his gun into the river before collapsing. A police officer takes him to the hospital.
Frampton suspectw Harry as their vigilante and drags a reluctant Hickock to investigate the bridge where he collapsed. Finding nothing, they go to a briefing about the new violence task force. Afterward, Frampton mentions to Childs her suspicion and asks to drag the river. He refuses and transfers her. Frampton won’t give up—she drags Hickock out to find Noel. Meanwhile, Harry forces himself to leave the hospital.
The task force springs into action, only they get a bit more than they bargain for—the violence that has been percolating suddenly boils over, causing riots and mayhem the cops can’t handle. As Frampton and Hickock try to get to Noel—whom they believe is staying with his uncle—thugs storm their car, forcing Hickock to lose control. Stopped, they’re pelted with stones and bricks. Then Harry appears. He pulls both of their semi-conscious bodies from the cars and drags them to the Drift Pub.
Inconveniently, it turns out that Sid is Noel’s uncle. As chaos reigns outside, Sid beats Harry into submission, then both Sid and Noel go to town on Hickock and Frampton. Sid suffocates the nearly incapacitated Hickock, but Frampton takes much more effort from Frampton. Just when he’s finally in a position to shoot her, Harry regains his senses and takes him out first. When Sid’s gun turns back on Harry, he no longer cares about living or dying, but it’s a moot point as an armed team bursts into the Drift and takes out Sid.
Several days later, Childs holds a press conference in honor of Hickock. Intercut with that is Harry, again going through his routine, but this time, he’s unafraid to go through the subway passage.
Harry Brown is a derivative revenge thriller in the vein of the Death Wish movies. Aside from its occasionally murky storyline, predictable third act and weak antagonist, the screenplay manages an effective balance of gruesome violence and grieving-widow drama.
As in the Death Wish movies, anybody under the age of 40 is portrayed with cartoonish hostility. They all smoke crack and commit wanton acts of violence and lust for pure amusement. While this builds a world where Harry Brown needs to take action, it does no favors to distinguishing one villain from another. Because it falls primarily in the action genre, where interchangeable villains are a dime a dozen, this wouldn’t be a significant problem if Harry had a clear-cut, well-developed antagonist. The man pulling the strings, it seems, is Noel, but he’s as over-the-top and under-developed as any of the others. What pushed Noel into this life? What defines him as a leader? Questions like these don’t get answered.
Similarly, the attempt to establish DI Frampton as Harry’s foil comes about quickly and unnaturally and doesn’t add much to the drama. It happens too late in the story for there to be any of the cat-and-mouse antics alluded to in their chess-metaphor scene, and the police subplot on the whole doesn’t exist for much more than explaining the missing pieces of the plot to the audience. Strengthening her as an antagonist, along with Noel, would give Harry pressure from both sides of the law. There are hints of this in the climactic showdown at the pub, but again, it happens so late in the game that any difficult choices Harry has to make end up being made for him.
Despite these weaknesses, the script has many strong moments as it follows Harry. The writer finds nice, visual ways to reveal Harry’s loneliness and establishes enough about his character to make a believable transition from brooding elder to sneering vigilante. This continues even after the action shifts into high gear. Harry’s requests for forgiveness from his deceased family and from God is a very effective moment that keeps him sympathetic in the face of gut-wrenching violence.
Harry Brown bears enough similarities to Death Wish that, one assumes, it will follow that film’s model of success (which spawned four sequels and an entire genre of ultraviolent revenge movies). It distinguishes itself from other revenge thrillers mainly through its British setting, which will appeal to the same audiences that make British crime thrillers (e.g., Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) popular both in the U.S. and abroad. It also has the ability to draw on both younger audiences, who may find the relentless violence appealing, and older audiences, who may enjoy the idea of an older man seeking revenge on today’s twisted youth. Attaching Michael Caine as Harry Brown (as the script notes suggest) also ensures a credibility to the performance that will further enhance its appeal among older audiences in general and, in particular, viewers who might ordinarily avoid an action movie.