He plays Brown in a reserved, almost dour manner as a widower whose only friend (David Bradley) is murdered in the rundown crime-ridden British neighborhood they live in. All eyes turn to a gang leader Noel (Ben Drew) who has been running drugs in the area and, with his group of young toughs, makes it unsafe to go out at night. Enter the demure but determined detective (Emily Mortimer) who tries—and fails—to pin the whole thing on Noel and his band of marauding hooligans. Her no-good partner (Charlie Creed-Miles) and arrogant boss (Iain Glen) are not much help, so with the police failing to clean things up, Brown decides he will do it himself.
From here the film gets a little convoluted, with street protests and general anarchy clouding things, as well as a local bartender (Liam Cunningham) who may be more involved in the action than anyone suspects. None of this will stop Brown's quest, and his encounters with each of the killers are the classic stuff of revenge fantasies.
Is it hard to believe an 80-year-old widower could bring down a gang like this when even the police are stymied? Sure, and that's where director Daniel Barber's gritty, realistic portrayal tends to fall apart. Thank God for Caine, who never goes over the top and who makes the gun-toting Harry Brown not only a sympathetic figure but also a fairly believable administrator of justice. It's a tricky role to pull off, but Caine has been around the block enough to know just when to hold back. Mortimer is a terrific actor, but she's miscast, too meek to seem like she would last a week as a detective. As the lead bad guy, Drew is spot-on, cunning and grotesque all at once. A British rapper known as Plan B, Drew shows natural acting talent and steals his scenes—not an easy task opposite Caine.
Not recommended for those with weak stomachs, "Harry Brown" is nevertheless not to be missed for fans of Caine, who shows he can still deliver.
Written by: Gary Young.
Directed by: Daniel Barber.
Starring: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Ben Drew, Iain Glen, David Bradley, Liam Cunningham.