There are countless experiences in life that can be categorized in the surreal column of living, but nothing can really compare to the incongruousness of aging, decaying, essentially rotting from the inside. However, in Harry Brown, Michael Caine proves, once again, that age ain't nothin' but a number. Unsoftened by the ravages of time, Caine as Brown navigates through the gang-riddled streets in the Elephant and Castle district of South London.
In an area that makes Orwell's vision of the future seem tame, youths of Harry Brown's dilapidated neighborhood reign over the territory with overt minacity, killing anyone who gets in the way of their good time, usually involving random acts of violence and property destruction. Director Gary Young interweaves the contrasting lifestyles of an elderly man with the fast-paced, nightmarish escapades of South London teenagers. The opening sequence is one of the most skillful in this regard. Beginning with an unsteady, Handycam-like view of the average daily events on the estate, we see, from a skewed, frantic perspective, a woman walking her baby in a stroller get shot at a number of times before a bullet finally makes contact as the gang members speed away from the scene. This is followed by the stagnant quietness of Harry Brown waking up in his bedroom, lying there for a spell before coming to terms with the idea of getting out of bed.
Brown goes to visit his vegetative wife in the hospital after a stark breakfast of tea and toast and staring at the ominous streets outside his window, not aware that this will be the last time he sees her before she passes on. From there, the day lulls along, the most exciting event being a chat in the pub with Brown's longtime friend, Leonard, another pensioner who makes vocal his feelings about the pugnacious youth that hangs around outside his apartment in the nearby pedestrian subway. Len even goes so far as to show Harry the old military sword he carries in the side of his coat, prepared to attack anyone who gives him shit. Harry discourages Len from using it, insisting that he should go to the police instead. But Len is disgruntled by Harry's naivete, saying he already has. With that, Len leaves the pub, the last time Harry will see him before he is murdered in the pedestrian subway.
Enter Detective Inspector Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer) to investigate the heinous crime. She and her partner zero in on a group of well-known miscreants within the community, all of whom deny any connection to the incident. Brown watches all of this from the sidelines, realizing that justice will not be administered through legal means. Taking matters into his own arthritic hands, Brown, returning to his background as a former marine, single-handedly picks off anyone interfering with or leading to information about who killed his friend. The sole person suspicious of Brown as a suspect in the crimes is Inspector Frampton, allowing Brown to get away with most of his vigilanteism.
Though one would like to believe there is a sort of prescience to the film, the reality is that the world is already like this. It's already a battle between young and old, strong and weak, powerful and powerless. The conclusion of Harry Brown accents the latent concept that the world truly is better without certain people in it.