If you think about Michael Caine, extreme violence doesn’t usually pop into your head. “Alfie,” “Cider House Rules,” “Blame It on Rio,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” — hello — clever Michael Caine is not seen killing people.
And yet: In “Harry Brown,” Caine is Dirty Harry redux, playing out “Death Wish.” He’s 77 and he kicks ass, man. First-time director Daniel Barber puts Caine through paces no one could have ever imagined. Let’s put it this way: Caine told us yesterday, “I said to the other actors, ‘You don’t want to be in a scene with me. You won’t survive.’ ”
Harry Brown lives in council housing and watches as violence consumes his apartment complex. The kids in his neighborhood aren’t just hooligans. They’re beasts, shooting a mother pushing a pram, beating up anyone who tries to use a subway underpass. After Harry’s wife dies (of natural causes), his best pal — an even older man — is killed by one of these gangs. Then Harry wakes up from his grief and takes matters into his own hands.
Michael Caine can pretty much do no wrong, so he’s just right to make Harry a sympathetic, complex character. Emily Mortimer — who was strangely sort of mocked on stage before the screening by the movie’s director for being very pregnant — is very good as a left-field choice as a local detective who follows Harry’s evolution. The quality of the production is a lot higher than any vigilante movie from the raging ’70s.
There’s a rumor that the producers turned down a $12 million offer from a studio, and are holding out for more for distribution. “Harry Brown” will be a hit, believe me. And maybe one day even a video game!
And you have to like the “Harry Brown” gang. They threw a Soho House-sponsored party after the premiere in a most unusual location — a Toronto subway station. As trains rumbled above, Soho House took over the lower level of Bay Street station, and turned it into one of their inventive locations — complete with a few subway cars for seating off the platform and lots of comfy leather chairs and couches. It’s the first time I’ve ever had pesto lambchops in a subterranean vault, and I’m sure the last. Caine held forth with plenty of pals including Michael Sheen. Harvey Weinstein’s eyes narrowed at the sight of the train cars, and publicist Peggy Siegal observed, “This is the first time I’ve been in the subway in 30 years!”