Michael Caine is Harry Brown, the English take on Charles Bronson's Paul Kersey in 'Death Wish' or more recently Clint Eastwood's Walt Kowalski in 'Gran Torino'. Commercial director Daniel Barber has taken the vigilante violence of these classics to a new level for his feature debut, which he describes as a "modern urban western".
The film is broken down into two parts: 76-year-old Harry before and after the death of his only friend, Leonard (Bradley), at the hands of delinquent youths in their locale. For the first half of the film Caine re-introduces a similar character to his 'Is Anybody There?'s Clarence - a lonely, elderly man, set in his ways. He spends his mornings visiting his infirm wife in hospital, before her death, and his afternoons playing chess with Len in their local. However, that all changes after the murder.
Heartbroken after the loss of his wife and his friend and frustrated by the police's inertia, he re-employs his Royal Marine training to take the law into his own hands. Harry brings the audience with him as he enters and attacks an underworld of drugs, addiction, abuse and extreme violence. The film is unafraid to reflect the ugly truth of modern, urban society. However, the more hardcore the action in the second half, the more Barber loses the hard-earned sense of realism of the first. When Caine is forced to become more immoral Arnie than Harry, credibility and accountability are lost.
The usually adept Mortimer does little with the little she is given to do as detective Frampton, whereas Cunningham delivers another stellar, albeit brief performance as an Irish pub landlord. We learn little in fact about any character other than Harry and there's barely enough on him for a full profile.
Shot on location in London, Barber's cinematography successfully portrays the desolate, lonely and eerie atmosphere of the concrete jungle of flats where Harry lives surrounded by gangland crime and the tangible fear of his neighbours.
There is no doubt that Caine is the pulling power for the film - earning it a fourth star - and his performance is the hook that'll keep bums on seats. However, the latter half of Gary Young's ambitious screenplay stops the film from becoming the classic that it sets out to be.