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'Harry Brown': Michael Caine's on target as elderly vigilante

In Harry Brown, Michael Caine is an old man with a past who sets out to exact revenge when thugs take over his neighborhood and kill a friend.
In Harry Brown, Michael Caine is an old man with a past who sets out to exact revenge when thugs take over his neighborhood and kill a friend.

Harry Brown lets Michael Caine show us his action-hero side one more time in a film that Charles Bronson would have been proud to call his own.

This British Death Wish is about a lonely pensioner (Caine) whose wife is in a home.

"I don't think she knows I'm there anymore," he tells his best friend, Leonard (David Bradley), one of the few peers his age still around.

Their apartment complex has gone downhill in the classic fashion — an older generation dying out, the address becoming less desirable, maintenance lagging as the wrong element moves in. Drugs and violence follow.

But Leonard has had enough. He's ready to take action.

"Did you ever kill anyone?" he asks Harry.

"You can't ask me that!" Harry spits back, foreshadowing what is to come. Leonard is killed. Harry Brown weighs his options, figures what he does and doesn't have left to live for, and sets out to take care of business.

The script takes us into the parallel world of a police detective (Emily Mortimer) just trying to fit in with the boys' club that is her precinct. As in Death Wish, one cop suspects Harry, and that's her. But her colleagues aren't that interested when a lot of pretty awful crooks turn up dead.

Director David Barber spares us few ugly details in showing us how an elderly man with a past might handle himself in these circumstances. But the screenplay, by Gary Young, stumbles as he cooks up melodramatic coincidences and an over-the-top finale.

Caine, however, is magnificent. This is not some laughable Stallone-boxing-at-60 exercise in vanity. He's an old man playing an old man, but one who lived through experiences that scarred him for life and prepared him for his final test.

A vigilante movie might not be the icing on the cake of Caine's long and storied career. But this reminds us how good he always has been, what he was and how Michael Caine will be remembered. Harry Brown is Caine's The Shootist, a chance for a screen icon to saddle up and do what he does best one more time, and a victory lap for the screen's definitive British tough guy.

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