Harry Brown Director: Daniel Barber Starring: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Charlie Creed-Miles Michael Caine picks up his weapon and goes on the rampage. This may sound like a plot synopsis from the actor's back catalogue, yet that's exactly the storyline the 77-year-old actor has to overcome in this revenge thriller that wants to be a British Gran Torino but ends up being more like any one of those cheap sequels to Death Wish.
The debut director, Daniel Barber, rides on the wave of recent films that depict British working-class youth as uncontrollable louts bent on causing trouble without caring about the consequences. Indeed, the consequences are not even that bad, given the lack of power or care that the police show. Emily Mortimer and Charlie Creed-Miles are both wasted in the dim-witted cop roles. The atmospheric opening shot in which a cellphone camera records a gang initiation is a taste of things to come. A young boy goes through the motions of learning his criminal trade before a brutal display of violence sees him shoot a mother pushing her baby in a pram. As he attempts to flee the scene of his crime a lorry comes by and he is killed in a freak accident. Barber may have wanted to convey a sense of natural justice, but only succeeds in delivering a morality-by-numbers-style lesson. Sadly, the film doesn't gain any depth as it moves on.
Harry Brown is a pensioner too scared to walk through certain parts of his housing estate. His wife is dying in hospital, and he whiles away the hours playing chess with his best mate Leonard (David Bradley) in an Irish pub owned by Sidney (Liam Cunningham). When Leonard is killed by local youths soon after Harry's wife dies, the ex-serviceman is left with nothing to live for. Though the police arrest several of the gang they let them go when they refuse to answer questions, so Brown decides that it's time to take the law into his own hands.
Now armed and dangerous, he decides to infiltrate the criminal underworld and clean up the streets. The film has a confused moral centre. It condemns the ruthlessness and violence of the teenagers taking the law into their own hands while condoning the actions of Harry Brown, despite the extreme violence he employs. Fans of East London grime merchant Plan B, aka Ben Drew, may find some interest in watching the musician put on his acting hat (as senior gang member Noel). Fans of Michael Caine, however, probably won't enjoy watching him trying to turn back the years in a film that his agent should have kept him well away from.
* Kaleem Aftab