Michael Caine is Harry Brown says the poster…and you know what, he really is. Caine’s Harry is an elderly pensioner in South London with a dying wife and a best (only?) friend who is being harassed by the young hoods who seem to have taken over the rundown area. After enduring the death of his wife and the brutal murder of his best friend, as well as the slow response of the police, the grieving Brown slowly takes up arms—did I mention he was a former marine and Northern Island vet—and exacts, if not justice, then certainly revenge.
Now you may have seen the plot (as scripted by Gary Young) before in various locales but what makes director Daniel Barber’s gritty film work is Caine operating at full-throttle. At first, Harry is a man retreating from life, unwilling to get involved; however his friend’s murder galvanizes him into action, giving his life new purpose. However, Caine’s Harry isn’t just a Bronsonian action hero; he’s an old avenger who unearths long-buried skills but is still beset by the ravages of age, in the form of slowed reflexes and a nagging case of emphysema. He also does not lose his basic humanity, exhibiting compassion for an abused girl even while ridding the streets of two loathsome drug dealers/gun runners/pornographers. It is a believable, layered performance; watch the scene where Caine hears from Emily Mortimer’s police detective that the youths may get off with manslaughter. In that scene alone you see Caine go from touching vulnerability to anger and defiance, and the transition is perfect. While the movie is far from Caine’s best, it certainly contains a recharged, dynamic Caine in a powerhouse performance. Definitely worth seeing.