I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Harry Brown

tn_harrybrownMICHAEL CAINE IS… HARRY BROWN, a pensioner with two things left in the world: his wife (but then she dies) and one friend (who is murdered after complaining that he wants to stab the dumb assholes who keep dropping dog shit through his mail slot). So it’s about an old dude becoming lonely and deciding to hammer down on the hooligans that are ruining his neighborhood (not soccer/football hooligans, just regular unaffiliated hooligans. In fact an interest in sports or arts of some kind, such as graffiti or beatboxing, might be good for these particular hooligans, give them more of a productive focal point for their hooligannery).

Harry is one of the very best categories of badass: the type with a PHd in killing but who chose to go into another field. The war was a long time ago and he doesn’t even like to talk about it. But he told his friend to go to the police, he already had, and they were no help. And Harry is an old man in the same neighborhood, he has to walk past these fuckers too, and he’s always taking the scenic route to avoid them which wastes his time and causes him to miss out on opportunities (little things like being there with his wife when she died).

mp_harrybrownIt easily could’ve been a movie about Harry just being bitter and pissed off and muttering to himself about kids today, but then some dumbshit tries to mug him and unleashes the beast.

I think we’re all on the same page with this. We like old guys who kick ass. We resent the way Hollywood tries to take young pretty boys who look like they never dug a hole or chopped wood in their lives, give them a personal trainer to work on their six-pack and figure that’s all you need to believe them as a grizzled badass. We respect a movie that admires life experience and appreciates wrinkles and scars and character. So we all agree that it’s awesome to see silver-haired Michael Caine in a role like this, reliving his youthful hobby of getting Carter.

Harry’s approach is cold and methodical, kind of creepy. He stands at a distance just watching the young people. I wasn’t really sure if he was doing surveillance or just preparing himself mentally to fuck them up. He figures out some of the layout of the local criminal empire and starts infiltrating, pretending he wants to buy some guns. He stays Michael-Caine though, he doesn’t turn John-Matrix. My favorite line (if I remember this right): “You failed to retain your weapon, sir.” I mean, how many vigilantes are polite enough to call the punks and creeps “sir”? Not many.

I think the emotional side of it really works too. I felt his emptiness. They even show him crying. You can imagine yourself doing something similar if put in the same situation. It’s not as much revenge as just opportunity. It happens that he has nothing left, and they’re pissing him off, so he takes that window.

Also it’s a pretty realistic feel, at least before he goes to the gun dealer’s place and sees the greenhouse full of pot and the drugged out prostitutes laying around. That might be a little far-fetched. But for the most part these seem like real kids, spoiled little assholes lashing out at their asshole mommies and daddies. No mohawks or chains. The filmatists (director Daniel Barber and writer of THE TOURNAMENT Gary Young) get a palpable “I don’t understand these kids today” paranoia without resorting to too much exaggeration.

Also I gotta respect that this is a vigilante movie that doesn’t waste your time with a news report or radio call-in show of people for or against the vigilante. I pointed out before that that’s in every vigilante movie, so I must credit this one for leaving it out. Good job HARRY BROWN.

So it’s a well executed revenge movie and a point for aging badasses. I liked this movie and I think most of you will too. But in the interest of striving for excellence I gotta point out a few things. For one, I don’t think this adds anything new to the DEATH WISH story. The only thing that’s really modern about it is that they record their crimes on camera phones. That’s fucked up and makes for an upsetting opening scene. It’s a good example of modern callousness, but as you know I’m against remaking all the old slasher movies just to add text messaging into the stories, so I cannot count this as an important update of the DEATH WISH type story.

(If that’s so important why can’t we just do what Spielberg did in E.T., take DEATH WISH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and cgi in some modern phones, maybe redub a couple lines so the characters make a reference to that TV show “Glee” or to President Obama or something? Would that be enough to trick kids into appreciating the not-even-really-that-old classics?)

I don’t need it to re-invent the vigilante genre or put an entirely new spin on it (essay question: is that even possible at this point?) but I’ve seen so many of these damn things they start to lose their power if they don’t. As great as Caine is I’m not sure if he holds up to his younger self in GET CARTER who I never liked as much as Bronson anyway. And in my mind I not only have to compare this to DEATH WISH but also to recent vigilante movies, and I think DEATH SENTENCE is still the modern one to beat. It’s much more ludicrous than HARRY BROWN but more fun, the performance by Kevin Bacon is so dedicated, it has some real good action sequences and it seemed more sincere in its message. Or maybe I just agreed with it more. DEATH SENTENCE is in the “revenge makes you as bad as them” camp, HARRY BROWN seemed to me to lean toward the kneejerk “somebody’s gotta do something.”

Yeah, I think that’s where my problem is with this one, to the extent that I have a problem with it, which isn’t that much. But I’m still gonna say it. An Empire quote on the front of the DVD calls it “relevant,” and the director said something similar in an interview. In my opinion the cell phone stuff is not enough to count this as current events and torn from the headlines. Crime always seems like it’s getting worse. Kids always terrify old people. Cities always seem out of control and police never are able to be exactly where they need to be and do what needs to be done to solve your particular problem. This story of a normal good guy getting fed up and shooting the young maniacs who are out of control goes back to the westerns. Old men have had to stand up against outlaws, hot rodders, bikers, Mansonian hippies, Central Park muggers, Larry Fishburne with a boombox, kids on skateboards and rollerblades, and probly Segways before long. If it’s relevant it’s only because it’s always been relevant and always will be relevant. This movie is not of today. We have not just now reached a point where we gotta start shooting people in order to maintain civilization. Yes, it is awesome to watch Michael Caine killing people who shouldn’t have fucked with him. But no, it’s not an important topic for us to think about. So let’s just not pretend it is and then it’s cool.

People have also compared HARRY BROWN to GRAN TORINO. They’re very different movies but I see the similarities. Both are about an old war vet who, shortly after his wife dies, finds himself pulling guns on young gang members in his neighborhood. But GRAN TORINO has so much more to it – a more complex character, more interesting relationships, and it’s much more thoughtful about what he does and why, looking into racism and the trauma of killing in a war and what happens as members of families drift off in different directions. HARRY BROWN only does a tiny bit of that. It might be better to someone who was disappointed when GRAN TORINO didn’t turn into a straight up action-revenge deal, or who couldn’t get past the awkward performances of the first-time-actor neighbor kids. But for those of us who really liked GRAN TORINO there’s no comparison, HARRY BROWN is not in that league.

Still a good one though. I hope they make sequels following the DEATH WISH trajectory and if so I’m really looking forward to part 3.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, May 6th, 2010 at 11:58 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

79 Responses to “Harry Brown”

  1. Jareth Cutestory

    May 6th, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Essay question: If not for the productive focal point of a web site for his hooligannery, would Perez Hilton be out there on the streets roughing up old folks? And would Vern be the guy to take him down?

  2. I’m on the same page, Vern. It’s the kind of story and approach that I will always enjoy, but it’s not really saying anything new. If it had been BOB HOSKINS IS…HARRY BROWN instead of MICHAEL CAINE IS…HARRY BROWN I don’t think anybody would feel the need to try to make the movie more than it is. It’s just that Caine is a legend so he brings a certain respectability to the movies he’s in, such as the venerated classic JAWS: THE REVENGE.

    The movie’s still awesome, though. The vigilante movie is the perfect illustration of Vern’s blues analogy. It hits all the usual notes with style and passion, and that’s enough.

  3. You’re running out of revenge films, Vern. Have you done BIG FAT LIAR yet?

  4. Watched this last year (Brit poster here) and I enjoyed it. It’s a fairly well put together vigilante film that takes advantage of Caine’s natural talent. Though the Emily Mortimer police subplot is poor.

    My main problem with it is the “vigliantism works!” message, particularly with the ending. I know a lot of vigilante films struggle to have any real depth to them or address the fact that revenge/vigilantism isn’t this clear cut issue they make it out to be, but I really disliked that the film seemed to be a lot in the “we should all go out and shoot young people, it works!”. I mean that final shot with the streets clear, his killing a few people completely solved everything? It’s so simplistic and naive and unreal.

    To then sit under the guise of “oh this is really gritty and realistic and relevent to modern england” left a bad taste in my mouth. On top of that with some stupid critics claiming the film is “one of the most important of the year!” (thank you Daily Mail) it makes me cringe. Oh and I was pretty uncomfortable with him torturing that boy for info, right after he’d watched the kid being sexually abused.

  5. Jareth Cutestory

    May 6th, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    frank: Dude, Vern often refers to Paul Giamatti as “the Oscar Nominee that Malcolm in the Middle painted blue.”

  6. GBG, I think you’re right, but I also think the movie makes a point to show that the true villain here was an older gentleman who was controlling all the kids and influencing them in a negative way. They made a lot of references to the main hoodie’s father being just like him, so perhaps the movie is less “Young people are evil, old people are good” and more “Old people are good, middle-aged people are making their kids evil.” Either way, I can kind of justify the streets being safer at the end not because he blew away a couple of punks, but because the neighborhood kingpin had been taken down. By the cops, I might add. Still kind of queasy-making in a sociological sense, but I accept that as a given in this genre. It’s not suppose to offer a cure for society’s problem. It’s just supposed to make each of us as individuals feel a little more vicarious control over our circumstances.

  7. I HAVEN’T watched this last year (British poster here too) but I might after this review. I don’t necessarily think comparisons with “Death Wish” are a good thing though, I started watching the first one on TV and couldn’t get through it. Maybe I just didn’t “get” it but it just seemed to be a movie about people I didn’t believe in or care about doing things that were unpleasant without being shocking, titillating or making any particular point.

    Still, I’m always up for a bit of good Caine. So I might check this one out.

  8. Vern: “Harry’s approach is cold and methodical, kind of creepy.”

    Alfred: “We burned down the forest.”

    {g}

    Any other great Caine lines that might have been uttered by Harry Brown?

  9. Jareth Cutestory

    May 6th, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    It’s not from a film, but Caine once said: “The best research for playing a drunk is being a British actor for 20 years.”

  10. GET CARTER (1971) is one of my favorite movies, period. And unlike many vigilante/revenge movies made since the 80s, the hero is portaited as a bastard as bad as the vilalins of the movie, which makes complete sense. As Michael Caine said in the audio comentary, it’s a movie where what would be the villain in anoy other movie is the hero in that one. The villain as hero. That rawness and honesty is what makes me lovie GET CARTER so much. And then there’s Michael Caine’s awesome performance.

    And Vern, i’m sorry to disagree with you, ol’ chap, but Michael Caine was always a much better actor then Charles Bronson. Even to play a badass you need acting chops, of which Caine has to spare. Bronson was one tone, Caine plays all tones. I fins Jack Carter in GET CARTER as far better and more effective badass then anyone Bronson ever played. GET CARTER and Jack Carter feels real, for once. And i’m not saying this to bash and disparate Bronson, because the guy was cool and a real man’s man. But Caine has the edge, because, simply, he’s a far better actor.

  11. Bronson didn’t need to act. Acting would have just slowed him down.

  12. The character Harry Brown was supposed to have been with the British Paras in Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s, right? That’s where his combat experience was?

  13. Actors always need to act, that’s why they are actors and not shoemakers.

    I’ll never understand why some actors get such slack from people and make them isempt from having to act as hard and as good as everybody else. I’ll never understand that.

  14. There’s that sarcasm we Americans don’t have again.

  15. Jareth Cutestory

    May 6th, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    AsimovLives: Personally, I think that Caine is often given just a little bit too much credit for his acting in GET CARTER when half the impact of his performance is due to the shock of casting someone with such a mild demeanor and small physical proportions as a near-psychotic killer (something the Stallone remake completely failed to grasp).

    Caine is good in the GET CARTER, no doubt, but I think Lee Marvin communicated more in his performance in POINT BLANK; not only did Marvin depict menace more convincingly, but his physical performance seemed perfectly attuned to Boorman’s dreamlike shooting style.

    As for Bronson: rumor has it that Carpenter considered Bronson for the role of Snake Plisskin, but decided that Bronson was too tough looking. Read that sentence slowly.

  16. Bronson is now so married to DEATH WISH that it’s easy to forget he was miscast. He was supposed to be a regular guy, a white-collar softie who was pushed too far. Wasn’t Jack Lemmon considered at one point? That would have been an entirely different film.

    Jareth — POINT BLANK and GET CARTER are both brilliant in different ways. Yes, Marvin’s performance is perfectly realized; but so is Caine’s. CARTER is grimy, low-key and even slightly depressing, and Caine’s portrayal of a sociopath fits right into this world. He’s a viper in a nest of them.

  17. Jareth Cutestory

    May 6th, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    frank: No doubt, Caine is a fine actor, and as good as he was in GET CARTER, I think he was exceptional in HANNAH & HER SISTERS. And I agree with you about the film itself; the seediness is great.

    But back in the 1980s he was seen as a bit of a ham. Letterman used to routinely rip on that instructional video Caine made for aspiring actors.

    My only complaint about his performance in GET CARTER is that it’s a bit mannered, like Tom Cruise in COLLATERAL. Marvin and Bronson did’t exert effort to appear unhinged; they simply were. Maybe it’s just the American naturalistic approach to acting that works better in revenge flicks than the more formal British approach.

  18. brad greenspan

    May 6th, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Hi Vern,
    not for nothing, but would you care to comment on Oliver Stone’s Wall Street and how by glamourising Wall Street (Greed IS Good!), it led to today’s 1,000 pt drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Index?

  19. Jareth Cutestory, dude, Michael Caine is a very tall guy. Look him back in the day, and he was usually the tallest guy in the movie. He is the tallest guy in GET CARTER, he his the most physical imposing person in that movie.

  20. Mr. Majestyk, no you americans do have sarcasm, half your humour is based on that. The thing that seems to escape most americans is IRONY.

  21. Jareth Cutestory:

    I was age that prevented the casting of Bronson as Snake Plissken, not looks. By then Bronson was just too old for the character.

    Two goods to not make a bad. Lee Marvin in POINT BLANK and MICHAEL CAINE in GET CARTER are two great tough guy performances, two of the best. And in fact, they kinda similiar characters. And if you consider thefact that John Boorman is irish with an extensive english education, you can then tell that in fact what makes Lee Marvin’s performance so special is that he plays his character as if he’s an english mobster, with all their traits, in America. It’s one of the reasons why his character differenciates from all the other gangsters in the movie. In fact, Jack Carter and Walker are two spiritual brothers. And both characters are played to prefection by the actors who embodied them. Lee and Caine were magnificent.

  22. brad greenspan, Oliver Stone didn’t glamorized Wall Street, if anything, he pointed out that place is inhabited by a bunch of assholes with delusions of grandeur and litle understanding of human reality. He made all those traders look like motherfuckers. The “greed is good” speech is suposed to make you think this fucks are crazy and beyond redemption. The IRONY is that so many missundestood the context and content of the speech and think it was some words to go by. THAT’S IRONY! Something many americans seem to have a falure to grasp. Sarcasm, yes, irony, not so much.

  23. In a recent AV Club interview Caine talked about agreeing with this film’s politics, campaigning for the Conservatives, etc. Said he took the role because he liked the movie’s message
    it was a bit creepy

  24. GoodBadGroovy

    May 7th, 2010 at 5:17 am

    Brimstone – interesting. I read an article in some magazine a few months ago with Caine saying he’d done research whilst making the film and now felt that it’s more a fault of the system for letting down the young people. Which I think is why he was supprting the Coservatives (I wouldn’t say campaigning, he said he wanted to vote for them and liked them, but he hasn’t been out anywhere or said anything since) because they wanted some national youth service thing or something, which he thought would help troubled teens.

    Anyway, morning after the election, hung parliament over in the UK. Crazy times. Glad it keeps the conservatives out of a majority rule for now anyway. Probably too much to hope for a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition. But that’d be nice. Can’t see the LD supporting the Tories actively.

  25. As someone who experienced Britain in the 70’s, GET CARTER just feels so spot on. Everything is dirty, everything is seedy, everything is low-rent.

    I love it but it reminds me of what the UK felt like, with the greasy, lank haircuts and the austerity. PONIT BLANK is much more of a ‘cool’ film.

  26. Danny Trejo is the modern Charles Bronson, I suspect.

  27. Loved this movie. Your right Vern, who doesn’t like old codgers kicking ass?

  28. The thing that tends to escape most non-Americans is how much of an asshole they come across. :)

  29. vern i think i speak for all of the internet when inquire: where is your review of babies: the movie

  30. Babies do not know kung fu, therefore movies should not be made about babies.

  31. AU_Armageddon

    May 7th, 2010 at 7:40 am

    I was gonna chime in to write a thoughtful essay about whether it is possible to put an entirely new spin on the vigilante genre (as it most certainly is). I really was, that’s what I wanted to do. However, after being given a bottle of wine tonight for playing juror, and subsequently slamming it down as I am also wont to do, instead of contributing I just wanna say that comparing Danney Trejo to Charles Bronson is the single stupidest thing I have read all year. Anyone who suspects Danny Trejo is the modern Charles Bronson has not only not seen any Charles Bronson films, they have not seen any films featuring Danny Trejo, and of course, they are also a moron (reserving faggot for a later rant – besides, faggot is not a fair assault on anyone this stupid as they would be as unlikely to enjoy an asspoking as they would be to detect what is happening in the first place).

    Is that too harsh for such a stupid comment? Man I can’t tell. But surely everyone agrees it was even stupider than anything even I ever post. Is this too mean, I honestly can’t tell. Perhaps I am stupid too. Harsh and stupid… but everyone secretly must agree…fair. I can live with harsh, stupid but fair.

  32. Jareth Cutestory

    May 7th, 2010 at 8:16 am

    AU_Armageddon: For the vast majority of the world, Bronson is defined by the DEATH WISH films, and within those films, I suspect that it is his cold unflinching gaze that most defines his character. It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that Trejo is capable of a similar gaze, among other DEATH WISHesque traits. All of us here know that there are more differences than similarities between the two, but I can see why the general public would lump them together.

    If I don’t get as upset about this as you seem to be, it’s probably because, in the minds of mainstream viewers, there are probably huge differences between Ryan Gossling and Ryan Reynolds. Personally, I can only say that Gossling tends to show up in quirkier stuff, like LARS & THE REAL GIRL. But the truth is I couldn’t distinguish between the two in a police lineup.

  33. Danny Trejo is the modern Charles Bronson. Working class origins, weathered features, background of being a real life tough guy (Bronson was a former coal miner and saw combat in World War II, Trejo a boxer and did time in some of California’s toughest prisons); both are talented actors who aren’t often recognized for their acting ability; both started out playing minor supporting roles, often times without even any dialouge, and graduated to leading man roles; both have done a lot of action movies.

  34. Also, AU_Armageddon is an asshole.

  35. I have become somewhat of an AU fan over the past few months. I love that he spent one line making his point and 20 lines deciding whether to call us all faggots or not. Modern discourse at its finest.

  36. Jareth Cutestory

    May 7th, 2010 at 11:20 am

    I’m looking forward to the day that AU and AL get into a heated discussion about the most recent STAR TREK. It’ll be epic.

  37. I googled “Fraud Trek” one time to see if that was an actual insult outraged fans were using on the internet. All that came up were AL’s posts on various websites.

  38. Maybe we can suggested a better parody name for him to use? “Impos-Star Trek” or something? There’s got to be something better than “Fraud Trek.”

  39. We can go old school Mad Magazine style and call it STAR BLECCH.

  40. Yeah, I thought of “Star Drek,” but I feel like AL really wanted to get the whole “fraud” message across. Something that indicates that the new STAR TREK isn’t only bad, but not actually true STAR TREK at all.

    Maybe STINO (Star Trek in Name Only)?

  41. THE FRANCHISE FORMERLY KNOWN AS STAR TREK?

  42. CC wins the Bronson/Trejo discussion. Sorry AU. The decision is final. Jareth is also correct. Of course they’re totally different, but also of course Trejo is the closest thing we have to a modern equivalent of Bronson’s specific type of rugged manliness. How are you gonna call somebody a moron for stating the obvious?

    Everybody stop giving AU bottles of wine, I want to hear his idea for updating the vigilante movie.

  43. Hahaha, I love it, but only if an unpronounceable symbol is attached to it.

  44. Trejo and Bronson are also both late bloomers who stayed tough well into their golden years. Trejo turns 66 this month, while Bronson was still making Death Wish movies in his seventies.

  45. When I’m 66, I’m gonna look like a dehydrated gelfling. Trejo’s 66, he’s making out with Jessica Alba. Is that fair? Yeah, probably.

  46. They were also in a scene together. Death Wish 5 I’m almost sure.

  47. Trejo was in two Bronson movies: Death Wish 4 and Kinjite, the latter at Bronson’s personal request.

  48. Kinjite is an odd little movie. Also Bronson had more range than usually noted. Lola (or Twinky) has a pretty funny comedic performance from him.

  49. Jareth Cutestory

    May 7th, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Is it too late to suggest STAR RETCH?

    You know how the Inuit have 100 different words for “snow”? That’s like our pal AL and STAR TREK.

  50. I’m watching DEATH SENTENCE right now. I paused (at 46′) to say that the filmatism in the parking garage is some hot shit.

    TOUCH OF EVIL hot shit.

    I can’t quite figure out how they did it (of a few possible ways I would do it myself) and I don’t have access to the DVD extras so *wow*. Just . . . wow.

  51. AU_Armageddon, are you actually meaning queer or something else when you say faggot? If you’re using faggot as a synonym for stupid you probably should just say stupid, otherwise you sound homophobic.

  52. GoodBadGroovy

    May 7th, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    SirVincealot – if you have a look around on youtube you can find a video extra explaining how they did it.

  53. Stefaneechi – he always says that because I asked him not to one time so it’s his inside joke to do the opposite of what I politely asked him. Mostly just when he drinks, though.

  54. Higharolla Kockamamie

    May 8th, 2010 at 1:54 am

    Hey Vern, a little late to the discussion and with nothing to actually say about Harry Brown, I was wondering if you’d heard of this documentary about the history of black gangs in L.A. called Bastards of the Party by Cle Sloan, bit player in the Training Day and Street Kings films. I know you’ve reviewed some documentaries in the past like Biggie and Tupac and thought this one might be up your alley, or at least in the same general neighborhood as your alley. Also what do you think of Street Kings and the directorial efforts of Mr. David Ayer in general?

  55. Haven’t heard of that one, Higharolla. Until now. I haven’t seen Street Kings although I heard it was pretty funny. I do not approve of that joker remaking COMMANDO. But I would be open to him doing an obvious ripoff of COMMANDO and calling it COMMAND-O or something.

    I’ll keep an eye out for the documentary.

  56. AU_Armageddon

    May 8th, 2010 at 2:43 am

    I hated cigarettes until I saw
    my first “no smoking” sign.

    “Keep off the grass,”
    let’s play soccer.

    The only law I cared for was friendship.
    I broke that one, too, didn’t I?

    Thanks for the advice Stef. I was worried I might have come across as stupid, ignorant, or even mean spirited. Woul really hate to have come across as homophobic though.

    Et toi Vern, et toi? I’m in disbelief! Comparing Trejo to Bronson is exactly like comparing a fucking cigarette lighter to a blow torch. In Trejo’s case, sure it might be a Zippo lighter. A really really cool looking flip top Zippo lighter. But can it cut through fucking steel like a goddam blowtorch. No. No it can not.

    I stand by my drunken self. It’s a stupid comparison.

  57. I really like Street Kings. Not a perfect movie by any means but I have to say Keanu is surprisingly good in it.

  58. Re: Irony/Sarcasm…I actually think Americans understand irony pretty well. I don’t see other cultures producing something as ironic and yet as successful as The Simpsons.. I think David Letterman, 30 Rock, South Park, and a lot of the shows on adult swim all feature way more sophisticated usage of irony than any, let’s say, British comedy (Monty Python excluded). In fact, I think it’s British comedy that veers a lot closer to mistaking sarcasm for irony. That’s a mistake American pop culture doesn’t seem to make very much. Our mistake is that we sometimes think glibness is irony (e.g. bad adult swim, bad comedy central).

  59. I liked Street Kings but it just reminds me of the superior The Shield. There was a minor crusade to get Vern to watch The Wire but I think he’d really like The Shield. It had better writing than most contemporary movies. Not slamming the Wire I still haven’t watched it. These shows take such an investment in time it can be hard to start them. I will check it out though. I haven’t heard anything but praise for it. The Shield had a great ending which I think is important. The X-Files had some great writing as well but the ending..not great. Sorry for the rambling but The Shield thrilled me more than a lot of movies in the past decade.

  60. This is going to sound hyperbolic, but I think the climax of The Shield, which happens about half-way through the next to last episode*, is one of the great moments in TV history. The final episode is really one long denouement, which makes it slightly disappointing.

    *(SPOILERY STUFF: I’m talking about the confession scene)

  61. Jareth Cutestory

    May 8th, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Andy: Each season of THE WIRE is only 13 episodes. And once you’ve seen the first couple shows of the first season, the idea of five more seasons doesn’t seem daunting at all. In fact, you start re-arranging your schedule to make time for them. Next thing you know you’re spending more time with Bubbles than with your family.

    Also, the crusade to get Vern to watch THE WIRE doesn’t exist in the past tense. We use every opportunity we can to remind him. Like when Vern praised Clark Johnson’s performance in DEFENDOR, Ebonic Plague mentioned that Johnson directed and acted in the show.

  62. Agreed WS. I’m glad you’re being vauge about the end. During the final season I would want to inflict harm to anyone that spoiled it for me. I have to say the last scene works for me but I can see how it would not for others. Jareth you’ve convinced me. I’m not a Lost guy so I need a new show to get into. The only thing I watch weekly is At The Movies, which of course is getting canceled after finally getting good again.

  63. P.S. I really do want to see Harry Brown there is just no way I can right now.

  64. I just started watching The Shield, expecting to really like it, but so far it’s not really grabbing me. It all just seems kind of contrived and the camerawork is distractingly dated, but more important is that the only character I really like is the detective that I guess I’m supposed to think is a nerd but is actually the only guy on the show who’s neither a macho dick nor a self-serving bureaucrat. I’m five or six episodes in. Am I supposed to think all this is awesome already or does it get exponentially better? Because if this is as good as it gets I think I’ll stop after the first season.

  65. Jareth Cutestory

    May 9th, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Majestyk: I had the same problems with the first season of THE SHIELD, and I never bothered beyond that. People tell me that it got better, maybe when Forest Whitaker and Glenn Close showed up.

    I also kept thinking how weird it was that the Commish was such a jackass in his younger years. The show was a prequel, wasn’t it?

  66. GoodBadGroovy

    May 9th, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Majestyk – Please stick with it, tt gets exponentially better. The first season is mostly set up and is little more than typical procedural cop show, albeit at the better end of that and with the added uniqueness of Vic Mackey and his Strike team. But the cop stuff is prett meh.

    It’s season 2 that kicks off what will pretty much become the series long story arc and is the real meat of the show, beginning with the Strike teams involvement in a money train heist. Season 2 & 3 are good, season 4 drops a bit (the glen close season, it kind of pulls back from the series overarching plot), then season 5/6/7 are some of the finest hours of television, leading up to one of my favourite finales of any series. Those seasons are so closely linked that they might as well be one huge season, and concentrate far more on the Strike team and their complex relationships and illegal goings on. There’s still procedural subplots in each ep (the best ones always include Dutch) but it really becomes more like The Wire in telling a continuous story, than CSI standalones. Also Forest Whitaker joins the cast for 5/6 and is awesome.

    Also the nerd you’re talking about (Dutch) is one of the show’s most loved characters. At this point don’t think that the other characters mocking of him as the showrunners opinion on him, Dutch becomes one of the most well rounded and interesting characters on the show, he’s flawed but a talented detective, and one of the most honest people in the show. Vic Mackey becomes a fantastic character that you both hate and love, watching him plot and plan and worm his way out of dodgy situations he’s got himself into, staying one step ahead of the criminals and the cops, it’s awesome to watch. He’s a selfish man lying to himself that he’s good, constantly convincing himself that what he does is for the greater good. He’s the “macho loose canon cop” cliche taken to its real world extreme. Also I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but Shane’s character arc is fantastic.

    On top of all that I’d say that, thinking about it, Vern should really watch The Shield as well. It’s not as good as The Wire, not as complex or addressing as many issues, but it’s fantastically entertaining, Goodfellas to The Wire’s Godfather.

  67. I watched the first two episodes of Shield, and stopped after that. My problem with the show was that I thought every character was unlikeable and not very interesting. I don’t have a problem with anti-heroes, as I often prefer them over heroes. But a good anti-hero has some appealing/cool/interesting element to him, and I just didn’t find Vic Mackey to be more than just a generic thug. I’m sure they developed his and other’s characters more as the series went on, but my time is limited.

    With Wire I lasted for 6 episodes. I liked it more than the Shield, and the characters were interesting. It’s clearly a quality series in many aspects. But the problem was that not much seemed to be happening. I guess it’s respectable that someone makes cop work on TV seem as slow and tedious as it probably is in real life, but I would have preferred a bit more entertainment and excitement value from the series.

  68. Tuukka — you gotta bear with THE WIRE for a little while. The first season sets up a lot of plot points that are still paying off in season five. If you’re not hooked by episode twelve of the first season then fair enough, but there are a lot of dominoes being set up in the episodes that you watched and they start dropping where you left off. For instance did (SPOILER) get shot yet?

  69. I usually give a show at least 1 Season to convince me. It happened so often that a show starts out so-so, but then becomes great by the end of S1 and beyond. I even gave Battlestar Galactica 1 1/2 seasons before I realized that it was nothing but empty pseudo-intellectual hype and so not worth my precious time. (It’s Sunday. Time for my weekly BSG diss.)

  70. Shane has the best and most heart-breaking arc in the series. Dutch gets really good stories. In my opinion if the first season leaves you underwhelmed I wouldn’t bother going further with it. Whitaker did some of his best work on the show though.

  71. I’ve got the whole first season on DVD so I’m going to keep an open mind. It’s not like I hate it. It’s just that my #1 priority for a TV show is that I like the characters and want to see what happens to them. If that ain’t happening by the end of the season, it’s getting the ax.

  72. Thats cool Mr.M. It’s just that the very first ep. grabbed me so I’m thinking it might not be for you. At first it may seem like Training Day writ large but it does get more complex. From what I understand though a lot of people who saw The Wire first find The Shield old hat.

  73. That could be part of it. The visual style is screaming “Gritty! Realism!” but the plotting is kind of goofy and phony compared to The Wire. I either want it to get more naturalistic or more over the top. Right now I’m not really sure what it’s going for.

  74. ebonic_plague

    May 9th, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Ha, sometime I feel like the guy who shows up whenever anyone looks in a bathroom mirror and says “The Wire” three times in a row.

    But I’m glad I did because now season 1 of The Shield is next on my to-watch list. I don’t think I ever saw an episode of it before, but now that Treme has replaced my David Simon fix and Justified has got me back to where I can tolerate other police shows on TV (not to mention bringing to my attention the work of Walt Goggins), I think I could really appreciate it on its terms.

    Jareth: I’m glad I’m not the only one on the crusade, but I’ve tried not to harp on it around here lately just because I don’t want to contribute to a potential online-hype-induced-letdown-effect if Vern does watch it. And I know a Code of Excellence will eventually lead him to watch it on his own.

    Gwai Lo: (SPOILER) does not actually (SPOILER) (SPOILER) until almost the end of the first season. I can’t blame people for not getting past six episodes because it really takes more than half the season before the show’s plot picks up. But once (SPOILER) shows up and his (SPOILER) gets (SPOILER)ed and (SPOILER) starts going after the (SPOILER) organization, you get that action fix that keeps em coming back.

    And as for Harry Brown, Caine was on NPR or something the other day talking about his experiences growing up in the british “projects” (are they called estates? I forget), and how he wanted to make this movie as a way to show how it is for people to live there now. That made me want to see it even more, and not just because it sounded a lot like a british Gran Torino-kind of take on The– …. *GUNSHOT*

  75. I really want to see Harry Brown, but I actually wanted to chime in on The Shield. It is by far my favorite show and I just re-watched the entire series with a friend who had never seen it. He was blown away and is recommending it to his family and friends now.

    You really have to stick with it, and I promise if you do, you will be treated to one of the finest Shakespearean tragedies in modern cinema. And I’m not throwing out the Bard’s name as some sort of generic complement. I’m referring to the epic level of conniving and backstabbing and lust for power and betrayal and murder and falling from grace.

    And the characters! I’ve never watched a TV show where the writers had such respect for their characters, it never feels like they are forcing someone to do something for the sake of a plot point or a convenient story twist. They all feel real, and at the end of seven seasons you feel like you know these people and so when the consequences of their actions begin to catch up to them, you really FEEL it.

    Seasons 5, 6 and 7 really feel like a different show, and I’ll just say that most of my friends who watched every episode with me found themselves unable to finish the last season because of the bubbling, churning dread that you start to feel for these characters. I’m not kidding. They are AFRAID to finish it because they are worried what will happen to the characters. I’ve never heard of a show with that much of an effect on people before.

    Seriously Vern, just watch it. Vic Mackey is one of those characters that sits in the pantheon of all time badasses. And all the themes of the corrupting effect of power, racial tensions, friendship and betrayal, and doing what is right above all else (Claudette) make for a truly unique moral drama. Not to mention the fact that Vic and the Strike team are always walking a razor’s edge, always 1 step from having everything come crashing down around them. Does it all come crashing down at the end? I won’t tell. Just watch it!

    By the way, I’ve never enjoyed a cop show before or since The Shield. This show is just different.

  76. On the visual style, they are clearly going for a documentary style with all handheld (and some steadicam) shots and they don’t re-light for each shot, so it gives it almost a COPS-like look. I know it’s jarring for a lot of people (I have cinematographer friends who talked shit about it for a few seasons) but I like it and I think it gives the show a unique look and feel. It also gives the actors more freedom, because they don’t have to hit specific marks. I think that really comes out in the performances.

    I admit, the first season does look kind of crap. They were still establishing the style and they didn’t get it down to a formula until the second season. That’s when it starts looking better, more natural and organic. I also have to note that they made the best use of a 4×3 frame that I think I’ve ever seen from a pure cinematography standpoint. It made scenes feel more confined, claustrophobic and often added to the sense of tension. I was actually disappointed when they released the last 2 seasons in widescreen on DVD. That has to be a first.

    One other stylistic thing I like about the show, notice there is no music unless it’s playing from a radio or some other in-show source (the term for this is “diegetic”, thank you film school! I knew I paid those thousands of dollars for something!). I think this really adds to the “documentary” style feel they are going for. Just a really smart choice.

    Lastly, being an editor, I would be remiss to point out that this show has hands down the finest editing I have ever seen on a television drama. It keeps up a frantic pace most of the time, throwing a lot of information at you both visually and through dialogue. But then they know when to slow it down for certain scenes and really let the performances shine. But the intensity never lets up. That’s hard to do, especially without a musical score.

    But my favorite thing they do editorially is when they cut out of a shot way before I expect them to. They do this a lot when they go to a commercial or at the very end of the episode. Look at the end of the second episode. Vic is leaving the Barn and Dutch and Aceveda are talking about him on the second floor. Vic stops and exchanges a long meaningful look with Aceveda, then turns to leave. Here I was expecting to watch him walk out and then pan back to Aceveda for one more look or comment to Dutch before the end credits drop. Instead, before Vic has completely turned around, SMASH CUT to black. End of show. I know it’s a little thing and most people watching wouldn’t notice or give a damn, but for me that shit sends a tingle up my spine because of how well it was done.

    What I’m basically saying to wrap up here is that The Shield is a show that was produced by people who loved what they were doing and put everything they had into it in order to make it the best show possible. From the writers to the actors to the directors to the editors and everyone else in between, this show to me is the shining example of what can happen when talented artists come together to make something bigger than all of them.

    I really can’t say enough about this show. Except that I think I’ve already said too much about this show. Sorry for hijacking the talkback for a bit. Back to Harry Brown!

  77. You said it very well RJ. And the smash cuts always left you wanting more.

  78. Watched the movie yesterday, and politics aside, it’s pretty good. I love how the filmmakers’s approach and style for the movie is serious, slow burn and thoughful, as if they took this movie very seriously indeed. A clear node to the style of 1970s hard boiled filmmaking like found in such movies as GET CARTER and POINT BLANK. I have to say, i’m a fan of this style of filmmaking. And, of course, Michael Caine is great in it. He can play both frail broken down old man and effective very believable badass, many times in the same scene. Good stuff.

  79. Would calling Caine “the British Clint Eastwood” be off the mark or maybe something truthful in that?

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