Michael Caine is on top form as vigilante pensioner Harry Brown in Daniel Barber’s outstanding and chillingly violent ‘urban western’.
The film offers a bleak vision of modern day London, Harry lives on a sprawling, rough housing estate where gangs of youths rule and kill indiscriminately.
Pulling no punches, Barber sets the tone in the opening seconds with the killing of a mother in front of her young son.
When the police fail to catch the killers of his best friend Leonard (David Bradley) Harry, a Royal Marine veteran who served in Northern Ireland, reluctantly embarks on a crusade to bring the culprits to justice.
Where many films would have our pensioner hero embarking on a crash exercise routine, cammo-up and take to the streets, all the to sounds of Big Action Movie Music, Barber serves up a more realistic approach. Despite his grief at Leonard’s death and anger at the police for their failings, it takes an attempted mugging before Harry, apparently surprised by his ability to disarm his attacker, decides to take on the gangs.
What follows is a violent story of casual killers being preyed upon by someone at least as dangerous as themselves, a man who has tried to bury the worst of himself but finds that even in later life he has to step up and fight for his community.
Although there are a couple of well-staged fight sequences both script and director ensure Caine remains believable by keeping the amount of physical interaction between Brown and the gang members to a minimum.
In the final act of the film a riot scene bristles with tension as Harry and the local police find themselves trapped on an out of control estate and facing an inevitable-looking sticky end. Barber uses the backdrop of burning cars and anarchy to great effect, creating a claustrophobic setting for the finale and convincingly separating our hero from any help.
At times very violent, occasionally poignant and always intelligent, Harry Brown is the best British film of the year.
Harry Brown arrives in UK cinemas on November 13th.