There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
You’re going to feel a bit grimy after watching Harry Brown, an ode to vigilantism that may as well be called Death Wish VI: Bloodbath in Britain. Michael Caine, formidable again after somewhat loopy turns in films such as Is Anybody There? and Flawless, plays the title character, a recent widower who’s distracted from the emptiness of his apartment only by the drug deals and violence that have taken over his neighborhood. Harry watches the gangs from his window with more weariness than fear, never too intimidated to go meet his friend Leonard (David Bradley) for their daily chess game at the pub. Leonard, however, feels differently. Continually harassed by the thugs, Leonard tells Harry that he’s “scared all the time”—and then pulls out a bayonet. Harry suggests that he talk to the cops instead. (Here’s where you hiss a “Yeah, right!” at the screen. You’ll be forgiven.) It’s not long before Leonard is murdered and Harry has nothing left but his rage and military experience to go all Charles Bronson, deciding to skip the concept of citizen’s arrests in favor of citizen’s capital punishment. First-time feature director Daniel Barber makes a promising debut, sculpting a film that’s both bleak and righteous, its scenes shot either at night or during the grayest of days. In the attention-grabbing introduction, Barber captures the chaos of the baby-faced criminals’ actions with a camera that whips around during a disgustingly giddy, drug-fueled random shooting that might qualify as a drive-by if the kids weren’t on a bike. At other times, he trains his lens from high above, a static witness to robberies and beatings. These scenes, though, aren’t nearly as sickening as what Harry encounters when he infiltrates the underworld: gaunt heroin addicts with track marks covering their bodies, living in a filthy apartment seemingly impenetrable to light with homemade porn on the telly and a nearly dead girl on the couch, frothing from the mouth with a needle in her arm. The grit and vengeance are especially ire-provoking as the police do little but spout boilerplate and deny that an old man is capable of cleaning the streets. If the film has a flaw, though, it’s that this portrayal is too dark and precise. There’s not a hint of Death Wish camp here, and serious though the subject may be, things do get a little snoozy.