Thursday, June 24, 2010

Blue Beard and Harry Brown

Blue Beard; directed by Catherine Breillat; French with subtitles; (2009)
Harry Brown starring Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer; (2009) - Official Website


I saw Blue Beard at YBCA last weekend. I'm ambivalent about the film. It seemed uninspired although director and screenwriter Catherine Breillat made some interesting changes to the classic fairy tale. In the version I recall, the two daughters were completely against marrying Blue Beard and but one of them reluctantly agreed. In this version, the younger sister seems anxious to marry the ogre. The older sister seems angry at the world for her lot in life. Blue Beard is less an ogre and more a cheerless, heavyset man with a flash of jealousy who mainly dotes on his wife.

In addition, there is a second narrative involving two sisters dressed in 20th century clothes. The young girls are in an attic reading the Blue Beard fairy tale. Scenes of the two are interspersed with the main plot.

Beyond those changes in the character's motivations, the film hew closely to the classic tale - marriage, key to the forbidden room, curiosity, horrific discovery, punishment and rescue. The film suffers from an ending that seems incongruent with the rest of the film. The character's motivations are really explained. Despite this, the film had a few moments largely due to the performances of Dominique Thomas and Lola Créton as Mr. & Mrs. Blue Beard. Both of the show hints of brilliance acting skill. The bottom line - I was mild about the film.


I am also mild about Harry Brown (which I saw at the 4 Star) but it did have one brilliant, extended scene. The film plot is well known so I'll run through it quickly. Think geriatric Death Wish...Harry Brown (Michael Caine) is a 78 year old with a severe case of emphysema. His wife passes after a long illness at the beginning of the film. His best friend soon ends up murdered by the thugs and punks who have been terrorizing the housing unit Brown lives in. They sells drugs, mug people and even kill a woman as an initiation rite gone wrong.

After the police inform Brown that the case against his friend's killer is going badly, Brown decides to something about it. Actually, Brown is mugged and stabs his assailant during the struggle. That incident is the final motivation for Brown's reign of vigilantism. Brown, a former Royal Marine, uses his training to wreak vengeance on the men who killed his best friend. His courage buoyed by hopelessness and lacking the will to survive, Caine ventures into areas no sane man would dare.

This leads to one of the best scenes I have seen in quite some time. Brown visit a illegal gun dealer to buy a weapon to start his death quest. He knocks on the door and is greeted by two of the most disturbing, morality-addled, heroin addicts you have ever seen on film. They are gaunt, they are heavily tattoed and to say they appear and act malevolent is an understatement.

They greet him with a pistol in the face. Then they lead him through their indoor cannabis farm to the living quarters. There on the couch is an unconscious woman whom they just had sex with. You know this because they videotaped it and the footage is showing. She seems to have overdosed on heroin but that doesn't stop them from offering her up to Brown for 50 quid. Brown is shocked by the scene but quickly gets back to the business of buying a pistol. I won't give away the ending of the scene but for that scene alone, Harry Brown is worth seeing. Kudos to Sean Harris and Joseph Gilgun for their performances as the addicts.

Is the rest of the film worth seeing? Not so much. I thought the plot was predictable. Caine turns in a nice performance; Emily Mortimer gives an understated performance as the detective investigating Brown's friend's murder and Charlie Creed-Miles stands out as the other detective, Hickok. It's hinted that Hicock is gay which is interesting but it's his interaction with Mortimer's character, his superior, that draws attention for its nuances. Hickok resents being the junior partner. Perhaps due partly to misogyny but more a result of his disagreement with her police skills. She's a little too soft for him and she (and by extension, he) is on the their commander's shit list. Despite this, he is loyal to her as a partner. I think the filmmakers hinted at his homosexuality to remove any suggestion that their relationship had a sexual component.

Charlie Creed-Miles is a very small part of Harry Brown. Most of the film consists of Caine trying (and succeeding) to not look silly as the septuagenarian avenger. The underground pedestrian path looks particularly menacing as well so I guess the set designer deserves some credit too.

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