In the TIFF film Harry Brown, Michael Caine plays a widowed man who strikes back at the hoodlums who have terrorizing his community. It’s close to a British take on Gran Torino, but don’t suggest to Sir Michael that it’s Death Wish U.K.
“It’s not like that at all,” he said. “It’s a complete work on its own. It was made by a young director named Daniel Barber. The first film of his I saw was The Tonto Woman, which got an Academy Award nomination for best short film. I liked it. It was a western and this is kind of like a western. It’s Gary Cooper in High Noon.”
So you could call it a Teabag Western if you like, but instead of being set on the wide open plain, the action in Harry Brown takes place in the decidedly more urban terrain of the Elephant and Castle section of London, an area Caine knows well.
“I always said I come from the slums,” he said of the E&C neighbourhood where he was born, “and I do, but when I went back I didn’t realize how lucky I was. Because when we were shooting late at night, I’d talk to the neighbourhood boys, … I realized was I was quite lucky because I had two thing they didn’t have: I had a happy family life and I got an education. So I had two valuable things they didn’t have, and one thing they did have that I didn’t. That was drugs.”
Caine blames drugs for the rise in hoodlum culture that Harry Brown portrays. “In the end,” he says, “they wipe out all feeling for the other person.”
But despite strong feelings on the subject, Caine believes making Harry Brown taught him something.
“This movie changed me,” he said “in as much as I started out thinking, ‘Let’s go out and make a movie about killing all these scumbags,’ and then I met these people and realized they were helpless just as much as the victims and they had been neglected and they need help.”
It’s been a long time since Caine lived in Elephant and Castle. After six decades of making films, he’s a film icon, which, true to his humble roots, is a title he has trouble accepting.
“There’s not a special icon bar where you go, meet up and learn what to do,” he says. “I just consider myself lucky.”