It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Harry Brown" is a revenge thriller poised somewhere between "Death Wish" and "Gran Torino." All three depend on the ability of an older actor to convince us that he's still capable of violence, and all three spend a great deal of time alone with their characters, whose faces must reflect their inner feelings. Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Michael Caine: Those are faces sculpted by time.
Caine plays an old man with a dying wife. He lives in a London housing estate used by a drug gang as its own turf. Pedestrians are terrorized and beaten, drugs are openly sold, there are some areas understood as no-go. From his high window, Harry hears a car alarm and looks down to see the car's owner come out and be beaten by thugs. This is the daily reality.
Caine is a subtle actor who builds characters from the inside out. His voice has become so familiar over the years, that it's an old friend. In this film, he begins as a lonely, sad geezer, and gradually an earlier persona emerges, that of a British marine who served in Northern Ireland. All of that has been put in a box and locked away, he says, and thinks.
There's a pub on the estate, quiet in the daytime, where he and his old friend Leonard (David Bradley) meet for studious games of chess. The thugs have been shoving dog mess through Leonard's mail slot. His life is miserable. He shows Harry a gun. One day when the gang pushes burning newspapers through the slot, he goes to confront them in an underpass they control. Frampton (Emily Mortimer), a young police inspector, comes to tell Harry that Leonard has been killed.