Set in modern day Britain, Harry Brown follow's one man's journey through a chaotic world where drugs are the currency of the day and guns run the streets. A modest law-abiding citizen, Harry Brown is a retired Marine and a widower who lives alone on a depressed housing estate. His only company is his best friend Leonard (David Bradley). When Leonard is murdered by a gang of thugs, Harry feels compelled to act and is forced to dispense his own brand of justice. As he bids to clean up the run-down estate where he lives, his actions bring him into conflict with the police, led by investigating officer DCI Frampton (Emily Mortimer) and Charlie Creed-Miles.
With its themes of rampant urban decay and crime, mistreatment of the elderly, and vigilantism, Harry Brown will inevitably be compared to earlier movies from Death Wish to Gran Torino. The comparisons are apt, but with the able assistance of Michael Caine in the title role, director Daniel Barber and screenwriter Gary Young's tale stands on its own, grimly but compellingly. Caine's Harry Brown, a retiree and former marine, lives alone in a flat in a decrepit London council estate, spending his time visiting his comatose wife in the hospital, playing chess at the local pub with his only friend (David Bradley), and gazing out at the quotidian violence and drug dealing carried out with virtual impunity by the insolent young thugs and lowlifes on the estate grounds. It's a lonely existence that only gets sadder when his wife dies and his pal is murdered; and when the police inform him that nailing those responsible will be next to impossible, Harry turns dirty. His first killing is in self-defense, but once he gets hold of a gun (obtained from a dealer-junkie in a nightmarishly vivid scene), it is on, as our "vigilante pensioner" takes no prisoners in his pursuit of street justice. The cops, who are mostly depicted as clueless and thoroughly inept, assume the local gangs are responsible; only Detective Inspector Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer), about the only one with a brain and a heart, suspects Harry, and she plays an important role as the film careens towards its operatically brutal climax. The scenes of violence are intense but very well staged, and the film's overall look and downbeat color palette effectively convey the sense of squalid hopelessness permeating this stratum of British existence. Harry Brown isn't a lot of fun, but it will stick with you. --Sam Graham