this feature directorial debut, which stars Michael Caine as an aging, recently widowed ex-Marine who, after a lifetime of refusing to look back on his wartime violence, is prompted to take justice into his own hands when a local street gang murders his best friend (David Bradley).
Scripted by Gary Young, whose previous screenplays (THE LAST DROP, THE TOURNAMENT) share this film's taste for challenge, violence and competition, this is essentially Michael Winner's DEATH WISH rewritten for a new generation, different fashions and worse times, with a focus on drug-ridden UK housing projects that recalls, within my own limited viewing experience in this area, PRIME SUSPECT 5: ERRORS OF JUDGMENT (1996) but without the commanding central focus of a community gang leader like The Street (Steven Mackintosh) to fully demonize it. What it has, though, is a tunnel, a forbidding ONIBABA-like hole in the ground placed in a park for the convenience of locals to more easily communicate with a shopping district, which has been taken over by thugs with cans of spray paint and pockets full of powders. This is the story of how an elderly man, with increasingly less to lose in life, reclaims that tunnel for his good neighbors in a career-closing burst of muted glory.
This film won the Empire Award as the Best British Film of 2010, but while it's well-made, it doesn't really offer much we haven't seen before. By naming the film after Caine's character, we are promised an outstanding performance but Caine nearly always delivers that; here he is his usual poker-faced, courtly self, his stoicism a sauntering souvenir of Britain's eroded stiff-upper-lip heritage, with moments where he alternately succumbs to teary sorrow or incendiary anger. Nevertheless, he provides the alchemical ingredient that makes this frankly commonplace project border at times on importance. Emily Mortimer, one of the best English actresses of her younger generation, is effective as a plain, thirtyish D.I. in whose earnest face and sensitivity to Harry's losses we intuit the working class child she was, the leaps of courage she's taking by coming to work every day, and the way she's daily crunched between righteousness and protocol.
Viewed via Netflix.