Having recently returned from an extended (thanks to that volcano) vacation in London, I'm still smitten with all the lovely sights and sounds introduced to me by my girlfriend Natalie, who's attending grad school over there. It only took a few minutes of screening Harry Brown, though, to remember that every city has its slimy underbelly, and the U.K. capital is obviously no exception.
Indeed, a pervasive sense of corrosion and corruption is one of the defining elements of this tough-minded movie, the other being the typically compelling performance by Michael Caine. The treasured thespian stars as the title character, a septuagenarian living in a particularly squalid London slum. Losing his bedridden wife soon after the movie opens, Harry is content to mind his own business and steer clear of the young hoodlums terrorizing the neighborhood. But after his best friend (David Bradley) runs afoul of these thugs, Harry, who long ago had suppressed memories of his military days in return for blessed matrimony, discovers that, even at his advanced age, he can still recall a thing or two about handling weapons.
As the steely vet stares down these punks with gun in hand, we half expect him to growl, "Do you feel lucky?" but the character is less Dirty Harry and more Paul Kersey, the role played by Charles Bronson in the 1974 hit Death Wish. But whereas Death Wish kept its vigilante theme uncluttered, this new picture gets bogged down with distracting police business (most involving Emily Mortimer's soulful detective) and culminates with a ridiculous sequence involving a handful of copout devices (including a double-cross that's laughable rather than shocking).
While director Daniel Barber gives the film a suitably grungy look, Gary Young's ragged screenplay leaves something to be desired. But Caine is able, channeling righteous indignation straight out of the Old Testament.