Harry Brown (18)

Daniel Barber, 103 mins
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The Independent Culture

There are about five seconds in Harry Brown which sum up the film's political stance. A skin-headed thug is sitting in his car, having a sexual act performed on him by the reluctant young man in the passenger seat, and then – blam – a single bullet shatters the windscreen and the thug's skull. The sharpshooter is none other than a smartly dressed, well-spoken, and rigidly heterosexual retired soldier. You can almost hear the Daily Mail readers cheering.

To be more specific, the sharpshooter is Harry Brown, played by Michael Caine. He was a marine "a lifetime ago", but he's since washed up in a concrete south London sink estate, where he visits his hospitalised wife, drinks in the world's dingiest pub, and mopes around the world's dingiest flat. That all changes when his wife dies and his best mate is stabbed to death by the drug-dealing youths who terrorise the area. Harry immediately launches a campaign to improve education, create jobs, and – most crucially, considering where most of the film's crimes take place – to replace underpasses with well-lit pedestrian crossings. All right, that's not quite true. What Harry actually does is steal a bag of weapons so that he can start blowing holes in the feral, filthy, Biro-tattooed gangsters who constitute the estate's entire population under the age of 40.

Directed by Daniel Barber (no relation to your correspondent) and written by Gary Young, Harry Brown is so simplistic and alarmist in its portrayal of "Broken Britain" that it would be risible if it weren't already being cited in right-wing tabloids as a national wake-up call. Call me naïve, but I can't believe that every marijuana grower in south London is also a gun-running slave-trader who could be the bastard son of Charles Manson and Gollum. And I can't believe that the authorities are quite as ineffectual as Emily Mortimer, a police inspector who doesn't look as if she could handle the stress of teaching six-year-olds to play the recorder. It's not so much Harry Brown as Harry Black-and-White.

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