Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Harry Brown (2009)

Harry Brown, staring Michael Caine, came out in 2009. Thanks to Nexflix, I've just gotten around to watching it. I'll be pinging some spoilers after this so if you're not interested in that sort of thing, read no further.

The movie takes a few popular themes, that of the semi-common person who is pushed too far, and the retired warrior who has to come out for one last mission, and mashes them together. While the vigilante theme is more popular in modern settings, especially super hero ones, it's possible to have 'masked' crusaders in older campaigns but those would generally have to take place in highly civilized areas where a break down of the local order is seen as a bad thing as opposed to just a thing happening.

The retired warrior bit is there to remind viewers that being a bad ass apparently isn't a matter of age. This movie doe it a letter better than the recent legend of Krell that I read. For example, when Harry is chasing down someone, he collapses into a near death-coma experience thanks to emphysema. No such thing tends to happen to the fantasy heroes who might complain about stiff joints and old wounds but cut through legions of their enemies like butter with a hot knife. Harry? Harry has to cheat a bit.

Michael Caine plays Harry Brown, an elderly individual who lives in what must be the slums of England. Everything is in a state of decay, graffiti is everywhere and there are gangsters and drug deals on every corner. Not good times for those who live there.

Harry Brown though does okay until his pushed moment when one of his elderly friends, who happens to mention what a bad ass Harry was in his youth, decides that he's had enough and seeks out revenge against those who've tormented him only to die at their hands.

The interesting bits that can be taken are the sense of urban decay. The sense of uselessness on the part of the law. When Harry's friend is out to take the law into his own hand, Harry urges him not to but to contact the police and his friend replies that he did.  To me, the writers here did something a little different. They didn't necessarily make the police corrupt, not did they make them grossly incompetent in most matters. They did make them a bureaucracy though and one that takes time to lift its mighty fist to smash against those who disturb the public.

In terms of acquiring the supplies he needs though, Harry does something any respectful adventurer would do. He becomes a 'murder hobo' or adventurer who finds a villain and kills him and takes his stuff. Along the way he also burns down a massive amount of drugs and saves a drugged woman's live and kills the henchman of the bad guy. But here's the thing. He has to have this equipment.

The movie doesn't play it off like the last Rocky movie where, "I've still got something inside" or whatever it was the old Rocky said. No, this is an old man who needs every advantage he can find. In a fantasy game, this might include poisons, various ranged weapons, weapons that can kill instantly like Vorpal blades and death spells pre 4th edition and other such toys.

In terms of characters I enjoyed about the movie, was the twist at the end. During the entire movie, Harry is going to a pub and while he sees the various drug deals and other illicit activities going on, he never suspects that it's anything other then, "Yeah, that sucks, but what's the owner going to do." Turns out the owner is a major power player in the events going on and is directly responsible for much of the crime in the area. By keeping that bit tucked in, it reminds the Game Master that NPCs shouldnt' be running around laughing manically ever few seconds and boasting of their evil plans. The best ones shouldn't even be known to be evil.

Lastly, at the end of the movie, while that twist is going on, it's brought on by a crack down of the authorities on the local scum. This is essentially a full scale invasion of the slums by the police that involves home made fire bombs, riot gear, tear gas, cars ramming into each other, and other property damaging events. The thing about this though, is it acts as a background to allow other events to happen. When planning out your own games, don't forget the things that the players don't directly control but can use as a distraction, or the things that the other characters in the setting, can use as a distraction against the players.

Harry Brown might be slow in a few spots for some viewers but I prefer to think of it as character development and set up. See if this old warhorse can stir some ideas for your game.