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).