Michael Caine gets his Charles Bronson on in Harry Brown, a British vigilante drama. Exploitative and crass, the film paints an ugly portrait of youth gone wild and the ineffectuality of the police to curb the menace.
As the titular Harry Brown, Caine is the only reason to see this movie, as the seasoned pro manages to keep the outlandish story grounded. With his wife dead and only one friend, Len (David Bradley), another retiree in the same housing project, Harry passes the afternoons playing chess and peeking out from behind the curtains at the mayhem happening out in the street. The film's opening sequence sets the tone as a speeding vehicle careens maniacally through the streets until a random gunshot from the car targets and kills a mother out walking her baby in a stroller.
The violence all around Harry is random and senseless, not like it was when he was a soldier in Northern Ireland. There, he notes, the violence had a cause. What's happening now appears to be pure entertainment. The deceptively creaky Harry turns vigilante when Len is murdered and the detective assigned to the case (Emily Mortimer, who performs as though she's been anesthetized) is unable to make an arrest.
There is a freaky sideshow sequence in which Harry goes to buy a gun from some seriously demented hooligans, who happen to have a marijuana grow house out back and a comatose woman with a needle still in her arm on their couch. It's a harrowing sequence yet purely sensationalistic. Likewise the film's over-the-top conclusion, which plays out amid the backdrop of a street riot.
First-time feature filmmaker Daniel Barber, working from a script by Gary Young, wouldn't know the meaning of the word "restraint" if he were tied in a straitjacket. Harry Brown - both the man and the movie - ought be kept off the streets.