On the surface, Harry Brown appears to be a British counterpart to Gran Torino -- another tale about a solitary widower and former soldier living in a crime-infested neighborhood who gets fed up and decides to clean up the streets in ways the police cannot.
Many critics have drawn comparisons between the films since Harry Brown opened in U.K. theaters last November and has been gradually opening around the United States (and in South Florida today). But filmmaker Daniel Barber, making his feature-length directorial debut, begs to differ.
``Gran Torino is really about race. It's not about the true problems of youth, which is what Harry Brown deals with,'' Barber says. ``Gran Torino is also a much softer and more sentimental film, which is probably why a lot more people went to see it. It's also somewhat comedic as well, with Clint doing all that grunting and his groaning.
``The reason why they're being compared so much, I think, is because the actor at the helm of both films is an elder statesman. Michael Caine is the British Clint Eastwood. In England, we grew up with Harry Palmer [The Ipcress File] and Jack Carter [Get Carter] the way Americans grew up with Dirty Harry and The Man With No Name. Both actors have an iconography that they carry around with them and is used effectively in both films.''
But unlike Gran Torino, in which Eastwood's character figured out how to put away a gang of street thugs without firing a shot, Harry Brown fights violence with violence, shooting and stabbing his way through the packs of hooligans that terrorize the citizens of a depressed London suburb. Harry does what the police are legally prevented from doing: He doles out justice the way the protagonists of Death Wish, Rolling Thunder and The Outlaw Josey Wales did, mowing down bad guys -- many of them teenagers -- with abandon.
Unlike the giddy kick you felt watching Uma Thurman embark on her ``roaring rampage of revenge'' in Kill Bill, though, the violence in Harry Brown is ugly and horrifying, even when committed for the common good.
``I like to play old men who are proactive, instead of just sitting around having people feel sorry for them,'' Caine says about his decision to star in the film. ``This was a very good script with a very good part for me. But the film also felt like a wake-up call to England and the authorities. This is where we are, and this is where we're going. There's never been an actual case of an old guy killing young people like this. But if you don't do something, it will come to that.
``I had seen a lot of documentaries about old people living in these estates [Britain's equivalent of housing projects] and how they're afraid to leave their homes. Little old ladies can't do their shopping, because they're afraid to go out. Eighty percent of the people who are living in these areas aren't out to hurt people: They're afraid of being hurt.''
Read the rest of my story on the making of Harry Brown here.