The movie opens with a gang initiation, filmed on a shaky cam or mobile phone. Afterward, we are shown through the same camera some members on a motorbike terrorize the neighborhood before shooting a woman pushing a stroller. While fleeing the scene, the gang members are struck by a truck.
Harry Brown ( Michael Caine) wakes and goes through his daily routine, eating breakfast, visiting his sick wife Kath, and enjoying a drink at the local pub with his friend Leonard "Len" Attwell ( David Bradley) . That evening, Harry receives the call that his wife has passed away. While being consoled by Len later in the pub, Harry muses briefly about his time in the Marines and how he met Kath. Len confesses to Harry that he is scared of the hoodlums in the area and has taken to carrying a military bayonet with him in case he has to face any of them. Harry advises Len to go to the police, but Len says he had already tried that.
That evening, after being harassed again at his home, Len had apparently ventured out to confront the hoodlums and was killed. Detective Inspector Alice Frampton ( Emily Mortimer) and Detective Sergeant Terence "Terry" Hicock ( Charlie Creed Miles) are the ones to inform Harry about the incident. Frampton and Hicock then bring into the station a variety of gang members, all under the command of Noel Winters ( Ben Drew). These men are released since there is not enough to hold them on. After Len's funeral, Harry gets drunk at the local pub and is mugged on his way home. Instead of giving into the mugger, he defends himself and ends up killing the mugger.
The next morning, Harry is informed by a visit Frampton that Leonard's case may be pushed to the side. This is apparently the last straw for Harry, who begins to form a plan. That evening, he goes to the purchase a gun from the seedy Stretch ( Sean Harris) and Kenny ( Joseph Gilgun). He ends up killing both men and torching their place of business, a slum warehouse where Sid was growing massive amounts of cannabis. He also takes a woman from the place who was passed out from an apparent drug overdose and drops her off at a hospital. The next day, Harry watches the thugs in the tunnel from Len's old apartment where he is able to see the major drug supplier. He follows him, kills the supplier, and takes a young thug named Marky hostage in order to find out the truth behind Len's death.
Marky, under duress of torture, plays a cellphone video of Len's murder. Harry then uses Marky as bait in the tunnel in order to face Noel and Carl. Marky and Carl are killed in the gun fight, but Noel makes a run for it. Harry pursues him, but has an emphysema attack near the canal. He wakes up in the hospital, where Frampton and Hicock are waiting to question him. Frampton believes she smells cordite (gun shot residue) on Harry's coat and brings this to the attention of Superintendent Childs ( Iain Glen). Unfortunately, he does not believe that this one lone, old man is the one causing all of the gun violence in the area and has instead authorized a full sweep of warranted arrests. As he and the police are leaving to serve the warrants, he informs Frampton that she has been reassigned.
The police are met with heavy gang and youth resistance. This leads to a full riot in the estates. Elsewhere, Harry has recovered and escapes the hospital to further hunt down Noel. Frampton is able to wrangle a reluctant Hicock in joining her in trying to stop Harry. When the two make it to the estates, they met the heavy resistance and are involved in a serious accident. Harry comes across them and helps them into his local pub, where the bartender, Sid ( Liam Cunningham) is revealed to be Noel's uncle. He has been harboring the boy since the rioting began. Harry tries to kill Noel, but his emphysema acts up again, prompting Noel and his uncle to try taking out Harry, Frampton, and Hicock. Sid kills Hicock and Noel tries to kill Frampton, but Harry is able to shot him with a gun holstered in his shoe. Sid approaches Harry to shoot him, but the police snipers take him out before he can.
Superintendent Childs holds a press conference, calling the raid a success and recommending a service commendation to Hicock and Frampton. He chastises a reporter who asks about a rumor that the gang deaths were done by a vigilante. In the final scene, Harry is shown approaching the walkway tunnel that he had been avoiding the whole film, seemingly because there is no gang activity in the estates anymore.
Reception and Box Office
Harry Brown was met with generally positive reviews. Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports that 65% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 94 reviews.
A few blurbs from reviews:
After a long run of baroquely plotted crime dramas like Layer Cake and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, it’s a little depressing to come across a vigilante drama whose sole twist is its protagonist’s advanced age. - Ty Burr, Boston Globe
[Michael Caine] performs his nasty work with verve, not only because he’s fired a lot of movie guns, but also because he brings the memory of his great roles to every part. - Manohla Dargis, New York Times
In Gran Torino, Eastwood took on the moral issues that screenwriter Gary Young and first-time director Daniel Barber studiously avoid. It's the difference between riveting and repellent. - Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
It's a strong directing debut for Barber, who uses the poignant power of Harry's experience to take a universal cut at decaying communities and the poverty of soul as well as pocket. - Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times
The film has earned an estimated $1.8 million domestically and $9.9 worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, for its theatrical run through August 8, 2010. During its opening weekend, the movie was shown in 19 theaters and made $173,353, an average of $9,124 per theater. At its widest release in the US, it was shown in 67 theaters.