Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Harry Brown

With the present generation of film-goers, Michael Caine is perhaps best known for his role as Alfred in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. When I was at school, he was better known in the title role in Get Carter (1971) where he played a roughened-up character in stark contrast to his performances as the spy, Harry Palmer, in such films as Funeral in Berlin (1966) or Charlie Croker in The Italian Job (1969). But in this household, his best role has to be as Ebenezer Scrooge which, for us, has become the definitive portrayal of the character in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1991). We are not big Muppets’ fans (and are wondering why they bothered to murder Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody), but Caine’s performance with the puppet cast was faultless.

So when anyone mentioned his name, I always thought of him as Scrooge – until last night, that is, after seeing him in Harry Brown (Daniel Barber, 2009), a story about a pensioner who is so sickened by local teenage violence that he takes matters into his own hands.

Apart from this being an example of a well-written film, there is one point that stands out as being relevant to screenwriting, which is that there is nothing new under the sun. No one story can be completely different to anything that has ever been written previously.

Some critics will say that this story has been done before. Well, the premise might be the same, but the characters are not: they have different back-stories, environments, desires and reasons for revenge. What makes Harry Brown so entertaining are the recognisable elements from today’s inner cities, the peripheral characters that form against him, the events that drive an elderly man to act, and the surprise ending – and not forgetting stunning supporting performances from every member of the cast.

This is Michael Caine at his best (well, after Scrooge).

3 comments:

  1. Hi Graham,

    I'm looking forward to seeing Harry Brown. During the last 10-15 years, Caine has been appearing in an eclectic mix of films, from blockbusters to low budget UK indie films, for which I've come to appreciate him a lot more. On the subject of Harry Brown, it sounds like the writer(s) imagined what Jack Carter would be doing now, had he survived and retired to a rough borough of London. But of course I won't know how acurate that idea is until I've seen the film. However, bringing characters from the past up to the present day is a good way to begin developing an idea; think of all those memorable movie characters that could be resurrected and placed in the present day to see how they react etc. This has been done a few times before (I'm thinking of The Colour of Money at the moment) but I'm going to take a little bit of time out now and ponder: which ones would make a decent movie...?

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  2. Thanks, Andy. You've made some good points, there.

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