Viewed from one angle, Harry Brown is a competent action film with more character-building than an average Bruce Willis joint. With too much analysis, however, it becomes the big-screen adaptation of grandpa’s rant about how “these damn kids need to quit accessing the MySpace on their portable telephones long enough to pull their pants up” — only in place of liver-spotted fist-shaking, Harry Brown offers gaping gunshot wounds in young, sass-mouth faces.
Brown — a former medal-magnet Marine, we’re reminded more than once and none too subtly — begins the film as an impotent codger, too exhausted to complain, even, worn out by his daughter’s premature death and his wife’s persistent vegetative state. Also emphysema. You get the impression that had he and Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino sad-sack not been an ocean apart, the two might’ve hooked up to quietly expire in front of a Price Is Right rerun rather than reaching for their revolvers.
But all Brown’s got is Leonard Attwell (Bradley), who meets him at the corner pub for chess games and can’t even pay for his own pint. Ineffectual Attwell is the target of some local hooligans, who apparently grew up watching A Clockwork Orange as an afterschool special and like a bit of the old ultra-violence mixed in their standard bored-teenager pranks. (Watch for a strangely empathetic flaming-bag-of-dog-shit scene that should make Billy Madison feel ashamed of himself.) Attwell’s taken to carrying around an old army bayonet for self-defense, something everyone, including Brown, knows will end badly. You can practically see Brown mentally loading his death-avengin’ gun when he catches Attwell with the shiv. A couple of funerals and some surprisingly extended (not to mention vocal) crying jags later, Brown doesn’t disappoint. He lives in London, though, where firearms are strictly regulated, so grabbing a Glock nearly takes up and entire act of the film. England’s aggressive gun control is here seen only as an obstacle for honest men, leaving them vulnerable to the gun-toting teenagers who’ve taken over the streets. “When guns are outlawed” and all that business. In some ways, Harry Brown is practically an NRA commercial with occasional teatime, blatantly exploiting the fears of the elderly and offering them a gritty 77-year-old action antihero who might set a dangerous example for any impressionable geezers in the audience, if only they were able to stay awake for two consecutive hours.