November 10th, 2009
“I know what you’re thinkin’, punk. You’re thinkin’ did he fire six shots or only five? Now to tell you the truth, I’ve forgotten myself in all this excitement. But bein’ this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and it’ll blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself a question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?!”
There’s a reason why those lines from Dirty Harry are some of the most popular and oft-quoted in cinematic history: because we most of us understand that sometimes a .44 Magnum bullet in the middle of the forehead is the only language the bad guys really understand.
How often and how vehemently we understand this depends on the times. In periods of relative abundance and security (even illusory ones, as in the case of the Blair era) we tend generally to take a more accommodating view of criminality, tinged with guilt that maybe we deserve it as a punishment for being too affluent. In times such as now, however, we quickly lose patience with such pussy liberal, we-are-all-to-blame, criminals-are-just-society’s-victims nonsense. We want retribution, harsh, immediate and preferably brain-spattered. We want someone like Dirty Harry or the Charles Bronson character in Michael Winner’s magisterial Death Wish oeuvre. Or Harry Brown.
At least I hope we want someone like Harry Brown. Not having seen the new Michael Caine movie yet I can’t be totally sure. Perhaps – like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, he wusses out at the last minute – but the plot, as related by Matt D’Ancona does sound jolly promising:
The film, compellingly directed by Daniel Barber, is the story of an elderly ex-Marine and widower living on a bleak south London estate whose best friend is slaughtered by drug-soaked hoodies.
Dismayed by the response of the police, Caine’s Harry seeks his own bloody form of justice, embarking on a journey into the hellish world of teenage crime that is both shockingly violent and morally unsparing.
I wish, though, I could share D’Ancona’s optimism that all these horrors are going to be averted thanks to the simultaneously tough and compassionate measures being planned by David Cameron as part of his Iain-Duncan-Smith influenced mending “Broken Britain” policy.
Those who say Cameron is a risk-averse pragmatist should read what he has actually said on the subject of social breakdown: for he has repeatedly pledged nothing less than the systematic repair of the Broken Society, a series of reforms ranging from tougher welfare policies, a transformed education system, a presumption that all convicted of a knife crime will go to jail, support for those who marry, and a range of measures to deal with addiction.
Long term, I would agree that some of this sounds promising. But in the immediate future – the next five years say – only one thing is going to make any significant difference to the levels of violent crime in Britain and that is stiffer prison sentencing. Our coffers are empty. Every government department (apart from Health, obviously) can expect to have its budgets slashed by a good ten or fifteen per cent. Can even the most fervent optimist among Cameron’s Kool-Aid drinkers persuade me that he will find the money needed for the necessary prison-building programme and related staffing costs?
Time, I think, for us all to follow the two Harrys and reach for our .44 Magnums or our old service revolvers. (Except we can’t, of course, thanks to the government’s post-Dunblane only-criminals-shall-be-allowed-to-possess-handguns legislation)
Time, then, to emigrate. But where?
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