Harry Brown loves to punish the audience with a vicious, brutal display of violence. These revenge thrillers need to establish the criminals as sadistic in order for the vigilante hero to work as such, yet this film goes further.
The film opens on two kids on a small motorcycle driving through a park, when they begin shooting at a mother with her child in a stroller. Their recklessness leads to her death, the first of an increasing number of unmotivated crimes occurring near a rundown apartment complex, where war veteran and widower Harry Brown (Michael Caine) stays.
He sees the growing violence, personally affecting him when the gang members turn their sights on his only friend. Unlike the usual genre contrivances, Harry Brown lets the violence simmer. Direction from Daniel Barber is calm, keeping the camera still with Brown in focus as he sits around his apartment or watches from a window.
What it is at its core, the typical vigilante piece, is not what it is as a whole. The film never feels overdone. It doesn’t have any of those moments where you cheer for Harry Brown. The violence is such that most of the time it’s difficult to watch, murders clearly on screen with the victims suffering, whether at Brown’s hands or the gang members themselves. It’s disturbing, a late choking death elevated by the smile on the killer’s face.
Scripting aids the visuals, producing a twist ending that was neither necessary nor expected, but appreciated for its surprise. Doing so helps Harry Brown avoid the predictable, further pushing it away from this sub-genres norm. Categorize it as you wish, Harry Brown will find a way to draw your attention from the conventional.
Sony delivers an AVC encode for Harry Brown matching the dim, flat photography with non-existent black levels. The film sits in various shades of gray, never achieving a rich, deep layer of black levels purely by design.
That gray scale sits with the pale color, mostly muted browns and oranges. Even the blood is a dim shade of red, and flesh tones are so washed out as to make it seem like the sun has disappeared. The contrast, reproducing some crisp, clean whites (even running hot in spots) is the closest the image comes to replicating the common Blu-ray expectation.
The encode itself is fine, really near perfection in fact. A light layer of film grain exists within the frame at all times, fully resolved by the encode. Darker scenes and lighter scenes remain the same, the film-like look maintained without the digital nature full revealing itself. Opening shots are done with a SD camera, and that look is accurate to the source.
High-fidelity detail is sparse, if not eliminated in the mid and long-range. Despite a bit of a smooth look to the characters, environmental detail is quite firm and crisp. Shots of the apartment complex (and there are many) start early at 6:00 and resolve every brick, speck of damage, and graffiti markings. Trees show off some defined branches, and as Caine walks by the tunnel where the gangs hang out, the individual blades of grass stand out.
That’s not to say facial detail doesn’t impress. There are a multitude of close-ups of Caine that are quite exceptional throughout the film. They begin right at the start at 4:58, and run up to the finale near 1:08:52. Wrinkles on his aging face, plus the usual level of pores and facial hair, are in full view. Other characters get the same treatment, a shaky heroin addict at 47:27 looking much the same. It’s not always pleasing to the eye, but it reflects the photography.
This movie’s gunfire is fantastic, and not because of some overwhelming bass or exaggerated surround effect, but because of its natural qualities. There is a wonderful crispness to the high-end, a generous pop that is as clean and prominent as it should be. There is a natural echo seeping into the surrounds as well, especially powerful 56-minutes in.
The subwoofer chimes in to aid with some music, some powerful techno that assaults the low-end. The heavy uses come near the end during some rioting in the streets, gang members tossing explosives towards the police, the flames generating a satisfying, tight rumble.
Those scenes also engage the rears, the prominence of thrown objects hitting their target and expletive-laden taunts creating a convincing scenario. Important dialogue remains heightened in the mixture of violence and anger, and the rioters remain ambient as the story moves indoors. It’s quite an effective DTS-HD mix.
A brief slate of extras kick off with a commentary hosting director Daniel Barner, producer Kris Thykier, and Michael Caine. A series of seven deleted scenes run about 17-minutes, and Sony loads the disc with trailers, BD-Live support, and MovieIQ.