Apr 30, 2010

Movie Review: HAMMERHEAD (1968)

Movie Review: Hammerhead (1968)

Hammerhead is a very Sixties spy movie. It just oozes its era. It’s hip; it’s happening; it’s with it… or at least it desperately wants to be. It oozes what its filmmakers thought was its era, a zeitgeist captured on film that probably only ever existed in films. But that version of the Sixties is also my version of the Sixties, perfectly in keeping with every other cinematic depiction of the era made by directors who weren’t themselves part of the youth movement. (David Miller was pushing sixty when he made Hammerhead.) There are youths in this movie, and boy do they move. The Sixties are in full Swing everywhere that secret agent Charles Hood goes. From the impossibly of-its-time piece of hippy street theater that opens the film (it includes mannequin dismemberment and topless cellists) to the perpetual, never-ending beach party that concludes it, youths are moving everywhere, gyrating to wild, psychedelic music. There are several happenings, a couple of nightclub acts and even one of those doors that someone could open up in the Sixties behind which beautiful women seem to always be go-go dancing to far-out music. (See also: Killer Likes Candy.) It’s great. I want one of those doors in my apartment! The beautiful woman go-go dancing behind this particular door is Beverly Adams, looking at her absolute best in a tiny micro-skirt. And that door is located on a yacht. Could it get any better? Perhaps I better backtrack and set the scene.

Charles Hood (Vince Edwards) is assigned by his bosses to locate a nefarious individual named Hammerhead (with a name like that, of course he’s nefarious!) and stop him from doing whatever bad thing it is that he plans to do. Details are rather fuzzy on that, but Hood’s cover is a good one: he’s to infiltrate Hammerhead’s organization by posing as a dealer selling him rare pornography! Sure enough, the ruse works, and Hood is invited onto Hammerhead’s private yacht, which is anchored off the coast of Portugal.

A beautiful, free-spirited flower child named Sue Trenton (Judy Geeson, from Hammer’s Straight On Till Morning) who took a liking to Hood after hiding out, nearly naked, in his car to escape a hippy happening in London that was being busted up by the cops, follows him on the train to Lisbon and insinuates herself into the same situation he’s in to be closer to him. Going to such elaborate lengths, surely she must be an enemy agent with her own agenda, right? Perhaps, but then again perhaps she is just a free spirit who does that sort of thing on a whim. This is the kind of movie such a character could easily inhabit.

Besides collecting pornography, killing people and dabbling in political assassinations and stolen secrets (his endgame involves both), Hammerhead also has interests in a local go-go club. That’s where Sue gets a job, of course, and before she knows it she’s caught his lecherous eye and been whisked off to his yacht, where Hood is already established undercover. Since one beautiful lady is at least one too few for a Sixties spy hero, he’s also gotten himself entangled with Hammerhead’s mistress—or, more appropriately, kept woman—Ivory (Adams). She of the wild behind-doors go-go dancing. Diana Dors rounds out the requisite trio of beauties as the world-weary proprietress of the local go-go club where Geeson dances.

The plot moves along very quickly—so quickly that it doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t all quite make sense. Most of it does, anyway, and there are more than enough happenings to distract from any parts that don’t. The action is good, if not non-stop.  There's a cool motorcycle chase during which the camera gleefully zooms in on Sue's bouncing, miniskirt-clad posterior as she clings to the back of a motorcycle being driven down some stairs by Hood. Hood himself gets beat up a lot, and the fights are surprsingly violent considering the film's carefree tone. Hood spends a fairly substantial chunk of the movie stuck in a coffin, but at least he’s got Judy Geeson to keep him company. The two of them have been packed in for a burial at sea, yet manage to maintain a proactive role in an exciting and extended chase sequence even from within the box. Others caught up in the antics include Kenneth Cope (Randall & Hopkirk, Deceased) as a misguided motorcyclist and a local taxi driver who proudly announces that his taxi is brand new. Naturally, he ends up sitting atop his brand new taxi on a sandbar as the tide comes in all around it.

Besides the brisk pace and super-Sixties milieu, the actors also elevate Hammerhead above many of its Eurospy ilk. Vince Edwards makes one of my very favorite Eurospy heroes. He’s not overly self-assured and generally jerky like most of his brethren. Instead, he’s a refreshingly laid back, low-key secret agent. His performance actually reminded me of Mark Ruffalo, an actor I like quite a lot but wouldn’t immediately picture as a spy. TV veteran Edwards has the same easygoing, self-effacing, slouchy charm of James Garner or Peter Falk, but also the good looks to be a convincing ladies’ man. I wish he'd made more spy movies. Geeson manages to make a character who could have been supremely annoying—dare I say it—delightful, and Peter Vaughn turns in his usually reliable performance as the ultra-sleazy villain. There's also a terrific theme song performed by Madeline Bell and what might well be the best speargun death in any spy movie ever.

Said speargun incident comes at the end of the film and involves a bikini-clad girl and a helicopter; revealing more constitutes a spoiler, but the scene is too good not to discuss.  I will say that it's kind of hard to actually spoil a movie as formula-bound as Hammerhead, but I feel obligated to provide a warning nonetheless.  Proceed at your own peril.

Hammerhead makes his escape from Hood and the assembled might of British Intelligence by climbing into a luxury box dangling from a helicopter.  By "luxury box" I mean a box that's been prepared for this exact purpose furnished with all the luxurious upholstery and curtains that a man like Hammerhead would be used to.  SIS is apparently unable to do anything to stop this slow, comfortable escape, but not the vengeful Ivory.  In a kind of insane variation on Domino's killing of Largo in Thunderball, she emerges from her cabin on the yacht in a minidress, aims a handy speargun at the dangling box knowing that it contains her sugardaddy and fires!  The spear perforates the box, killing Hammerhead and sticking out the other side.  Then a hippy who happens to be dancing in a hanging cage at a never-ending beach party in the general vicinity of all this craziness punctuates the bizarre spectacle by commenting, "Dig that crazy valentine!" Her work done, Ivory proceeds to shimmy across a flotilla of friendly boats to join the dance party, and the hippy seems unconcerned that the tide appears to be coming in around his cage. How can you not love a movie that ends like that?

Hammerhead not only a wonderful gateway into a fabulous version of the Sixties that may only ever have existed in such films, but also top-shelf Eurospy entertainment, emblematic of its era, that simply cries out for a proper DVD release.  Sadly, it's currently unavailable in any region. [UPDATE: In late 2011, Sony released Hammerhead on MOD DVD in a beautiful print much better looking than the one represented here. Get it!] Also sad is the fact that it didn't generate any sequels, as there was a whole series of Charles Hood novels by James Mayo and I would have loved to see Edwards spy again.  C'est dommage.

Now I'll leave you with some more images of youth culture gone mad!

The 39 Steps Stageplay Opens In Los Angeles

When the comedic stage adaptation of the classic John Buchan spy novel and Alfred Hitchcock film opened on Broadway two years ago, I lamented being stuck in Los Angeles, far away from America's theater capital.  (In my frustration, I may have even used the term "smog-bubble" to describe a city I actually love. For this I now apologize.)  Well, now Angelenos can finally enjoy this production that's played London and New York and elsewhere to rave reviews.  "The 39 Steps" is running at LA's Ahmanson Theater downtown from April 27 to May 16, 2010. Nodding to the book, but apparently owing more to the first of several film adaptations of the material, The Hollywood Reporter noted when it opened on Broadway that "this particular adaptation is an almost scene-for-scene spoof/interpretation of Hitchcock's 1935 movie version that starred Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll." The procuction uses a cast of only four actors and minimal sets to, apparently, great effect. Tickets are available through the Ahmonson's website.
Tradecraft: Summit Picks Up Valerie Plame Movie

Variety reports that Summit Entertainment, the fledgling studio best known for the Twilight saga (and a number of Pierce Brosnan movies), has picked up the North American distribution rights for Bourne Identity director Doug Liman's latest spy movie Fair Game, about outed CIA agent Valerie Plame. Naomi Watts stars as Plame, and Sean Penn plays her husband. Plame's is a real-life story of the messy intersection between spies and politics that could easily have come from the mind of John Le Carré... and I find it fascinating.  In 2003, the undercover agent's identity was leaked to the media and made public–putting her in jeopardy–by shadowy figures in her own government to forward their own political agenda after her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, publicly criticized the administration's justification for war in Iraq.  The issue was instantly politicized, but to me the most interesting aspect of it is not the political ramifications at all, but the inherent espionage drama.  I mean, this is exactly the story that spy fans have read in fictional form again and again from Le Carré to Queen & Country: an active agent risking her life for her country betrayed and hung out to dry by unscrupulous politicians. And Liman seems like the right man to tell it, having kickstarted the cinematic adventures of another agent foresaken by those he served, Jason Bourne.  Unsurprisingly, Summit's co-chairs described their new acquisition as "a very strong, engaging thriller that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats." According to the trade, "Fair Game is based on Plame's memoir of the same name [not the 1995 Cindy Crawford movie], and also draws from Wilson's book The Politics of Truth."  Brothers Jez and John Butterworth wrote the script. 

When it was first announced, Liman's movie was set up at Warner Bros., but the studio got cold feet after other serious, adult dramas (like State of Play and Duplicity) flopped at the box office. Summit might be just the right company to buck that trend, though, having already successfully marketed serious dramas like Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker and The Ghost Writer.  They'll get a free head-start on their marketing campaign, as Fair Game is the only American movie in competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Apr 29, 2010

OSS 117: Lost In Rio Gets U.S. Distribution... And Sooner Than You Think!

This has somehow escaped my attention until now, but Music Box Films, the same company that distributed the utterly fantastic Eurospy parody OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies in America, has secured the rights to distrubute the sequel, OSS 117: Lost in Rio (aka OSS 117: Rio ne repond plus) in the United States... and it rolls out in select markets as soon as next week!  OSS 117: Lost in Rio, a hilarious sequel nearly as good as its predecessor, opens in New York and Los Angeles on May 7 before expanding throughout the summer to other cities.  The full schedule as of now (along with a trailer) can be found on the Music Box website, although more dates and locations are expected soon.

The original OSS 117 movies in the Sixties were slick Eurospy films with relatively high budgets that played it straight; the new ones are equally slick parodies of the genre (not just Eurospy, but James Bond and Hitchcock as well) that meticulously recreate the periods in which they're set (1958 and 1967 respectively) and the filmmaking techniques of the time.  Both films manage to combine slapstick and sharp satire in a sublime blend, carried by brilliant, seemingly effortless comic performances by Jean Dujardin.  They are absolutely essential viewing for fans of James Bond, Eurospies or spies in general. The first film is available on DVD from Amazon.

View these related blog posts:
OSS 117 Sequel Soundtrack Available As Digital Download
OSS 117 Threequel News
More OSS 117 Sequel Details Emerge
OSS 117 Is Back!
OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies On DVD From Music Box Films
Review: OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies
Tradecraft: Michael Brandt To Direct Richard Gere Spy Movie

The Hollywood Reporter reports that writer Michael Brandt will make his directorial debut on the spy thriller Double, starring Richard Gere and Topher Grace.  Brandt wrote Double with his partner Derek Haas (the pair have also penned such hits as Wanted and 3:10 to Yuma, as well as Catch That Kid).  According to the trade, Double "begins with the murder of a senator in Washington by a Soviet assassin long thought to be dead. A retired CIA operative (Gere), who spent his career going toe to toe with his Soviet nemeses, is forced to partner with a young FBI agent (Grace) to hunt the killer down. Brandt said he was a fan of films such as The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor and No Way Out, and hoped to follow in their tradition." Brandt and Haas are no strangers to the spy genre; the pair have contributed to such anxiously awaited in-development spy fare as Matt Helm and Robert Ludlum's The Matarese Circle.

Apr 28, 2010

Movie Review: Our Men in Bagdad aka Il gioco delle spie (1966)

This one’s a rarity: one of the hardest Eurospy movies of all to track down. In fact, the esteemed authors of the indispensable Eurospy Guide concluded at the time of publication (in 2004) that this “sadly elusive” and “key” film “remained stubbornly unavailable.” They predicted that it would appear with time, and fortunately it has, but certainly not in an optimal format. The version under review is taken from a full-screen Italian TV broadcast with no English subtitles. Not speaking a lick of Italian myself, that meant I had to rely on the visuals alone to guide me. Fortunately, a lot of those visuals are pretty cool–and many typical spy setpieces (involving frogmen and helicopters and shootouts and the like) occur without dialogue anyway. I don’t like reviewing a movie whose dialogue I can’t understand, but with no alternatives available, I will endeavor to do so, working from the clues on screen. (Though bear in mind, I could be as off in my interpretation of what’s going on as Woody Allen was when he helpfully “translated” those Japanese films into What’s Up, Tiger Lily?... but I doubt it.)

The movie (which is based on the a novel by Robert Velher called Le Jeu des Espions) starts out with an old white guy talking to a sheik on a yacht. From this, we can safely infer that some Western power has just signed a lucrative oil contract. I’ve seen enough Sixties spy movies to know that’s always what’s going on in these situations. So far, so good. We then cut to Roger Hanin skulking around what appears to be a U.S. airbase. With his thick frame, wide face and post-Folsom Prison Johnny Cash looks, I’ve always found Hanin to be a sort of unlikely Eurospy hero, but he certainly made his fair share of genre entries, including the popular “Tiger” films. (The Eurospy Guide even labels him “the preeminent star of French spy films.”) He’s found out and shot at–but it was all just a training mission! Now we’re in for a real surprise: apparently he and his colleagues (Rory Calhoun and Evi Marandi) are Russian spies!

While the Rosa Klebbish boss lady was a tipoff (brainwashing music plays when she speaks, but I don’t think she was actually brainwashing anyone), I might not have actually picked up on this right away were it not for a helpful (assuming it’s accurate, that is) plot summary on the IMDB. Hanin is Alex, Calhoun is Sadov and blond Eurospy stalwart Marandi (perhaps better known for her role in Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires) is Sonia–all as Russian as you can get. And they’re, apparently, out to stop the Americans from getting this oil contract! It’s an interesting and unique point of view. But how could it have been a popular one at the height of the Cold War? Well... it gets more interesting. By midway through the film, it’s clear that one of our trio is actually a traitor–an American mole. But who? This tricky little narrative twist allows the filmmakers the chance to make their character both hero and antihero at once. A hero to the audiences–most of whom would have been in Western nations–and a traitor to the other characters in the film. This backwards perspective actually works better than the much more famous A Dandy in Aspic, in which we’re asked to sympathize with a traitorous protagonist who is really a Russian agent operating as a mole in British Intelligence. Of course, all the double-crossery also makes viewing a lot more confusing when you’re watching the movie in a language you can’t understand!

I’m not quite sure as to our trio’s overarching plan to sabotage the American oil contract, but the specifics involve breaking and entering, flying–and ejecting from–a fighter jet, taking a helicopter ride, fighting in a train car, skimming across the waves in a speedboat, getting into a gunfight in a parking garage, and engaging in underwater combat while diving. You know, all the good spy stuff. There’s also a terrific sequence wherein Hanin and Calhoun attempt a robbery at what might be the U.S. embassy in a room with a very squeaky floor. Their solution? Lassoing some twine around a doorknob, and pulling themselves across the room on a loose rug! It’s not quite Topkapi, but it’s still a pretty innovative solution! All of this is very well done, and director Paolo Bianchini keeps his camera refreshingly fluid (he loves circular rotations, and they work well here) and has an eye for cool shots and angles to keep things interesting (like shooting part of the traditional briefing-with-the-boss scene through a decorative glass bowl in the office), but to me the real highlight of this film is the Sixties Baghdad scenery. (That’s assuming it was really shot in Baghdad, but I’ve no reason to believe otherwise.) Baghdad is obviously a hotbed of spies today, and the subject of films like Green Zone and The Hurt Locker (neither of which were actually shot there), but it’s an underused location in Sixties spy cinema. If a Eurospy is going to head to the Middle East, it’s usually Beirut. I’m struck in this footage by what a beautiful city Baghdad once was! On the edge of what I presume is the Tigris River, it looks like an exotic oasis resort town, not a capital that will spend its next four decades embroiled in terror and violence. The locations are all very nice.

The film builds to a head as the traitor is found out and personal loyalties are tested. The fractured alliances and deadly physical confrontations carry actual weight because by this point the film has established a believable rapport between the three leads, peppered with moments of organic humor. In the end, the viewer empathizes with the characters on both sides of the Cold War equation. This is a personal story, not a political one. Despite all the spy action, Our Men in Bagdad is actually more of the Le Carré school of “serious spying.”

The conclusion finds our surviving leads involved in that most classic of serious spy scenarios: the prisoner exchange (nicely framed with an aerial long shot). As the outed American agent is traded for a captured counterpart, it doesn’t matter if you don’t speak Italian. There is no dialogue. Everything is said on the actors’ faces, and in the looks they exchange are friendships and possible romances shattered by geopolitics and their profession. The scene is very effectively scored by Roberto Pregadio and Walter Rizzati, and between the acting and the music, the result is undeniably poignant. Our Men in Bagdad is an interesting film and by no means run-of-the-mill. It delivers all the action and fabulous locations one expects of the Eurospy genre, but also the sense of melancholy more readily associated with the work of John Le Carré or Len Deighton. I would love to see it one day with English subtitles, and see if I feel the same way. (Or if I completely misread it!) Hopefully that day will come, eventually. After all, here we are six years on from the publication of The Eurospy Guide, and a at least the movie itself has surfaced, true to the authors’ optimistic prediction.

A big thanks to Rich for the chance to see this rare gem!

Apr 27, 2010

Another Brian Clemens Series Gets A Film Remake

Brian Clemens' New Avengers follow-up series, the cult classic The Professionals, is due for a film remake, according to Empire (via Dark Horizons).  The Professionals were super-agents Bodie and Doyle (Lewis Collins and Martin Shaw), assigned to the elite, extralegal anti-terrorist unit CI5 under the auspices of the grizzled George Cowley (Gordon Jackson). Director Neil Marshall (Centurion, Doomsday) is attached to direct, and he envisions the film as a "British buddy movie." The helmer told Empire, “We want to contemporise it but keep everything that made the original great, just turn it into a real wham-bam rip-roaring adventure movie. And a really great buddy movie: these guys are like Butch and Sundance or Riggs and Murtaugh. But this is a British buddy movie, which I don’t think I’ve seen before...” Even though the film is just in the script stages, let the speculation begin now as to who could fill the shoes of the three leads, or what musician will be tapped to update Laurie Johnson's classic theme music.

Apr 26, 2010

Upcoming Spy DVDs: Jerry Cotton Revival

The new Jerry Cotton movie (a comedic update of the classic Sixties George Nader Eurospy series), which opened in Germany last month, is already available for pre-order from Amazon.de on DVD, Blu-ray and Special Edition Blu-ray.  It will be available on October 31. Unfortunately, it's impossible to say from these listings if there will be any English subtitles, but sadly I would doubt it.  Still, you can at least watch another trailer on any of those Amazon listings, and though it's in German, you get a pretty good idea of the film.  (And watch for Casino Royale's comic relief scene-stealer Jürgen Tarrach!) It seems to play things a bit straighter than either the previous director/star pairing, the Edgar Wallace send-up Die Wixxer, or the French Eurospy revival parodies featuring OSS 117Jerry Cotton looks to be a fairly straightforward action/comedy rather than a spoof; the comedy seems to be generated by the characters (some rather silly) rather than the premise.  I really hope that the rest of the world has a chance to see this eventually, because I'm very curious to see how Jerry's been updated for the 21st Century.

Read my review of the Jerry Cotton movie Death in a Red Jaguar here.
Read my review of the Jerry Cotton movie Death and Diamonds here.
Read more about the new Jerry Cotton movie here, and see the teaser trailer here.

Apr 25, 2010

Summer Spy Trailers

This is kind of old news I'd meant to post a few weeks ago, but I'd be remiss to let it slip altogether.  New trailers debuted recently for the summer spy movie Tom Cruise chose not to appear in and the one he did choose... and they both look pretty awesome.  Apple has the latest trailer for Salt, the Phillip Noyce-directed 90s throwback CIA action movie in which Angelina Jolie stepped into the role vacated by Cruise, necessitating a quick gender change for the titular protagonist.  I can kind of see why Cruise opted out, because the movie does look very much in the vein of his Mission: Impossible franchise: fairly serious spy drama with lots of betrayals, heavy on the action.  Knight & Day, on the other hand, looks like much more lighthearted spy fare, but equally fun.  I do wish Cruise didn't seem to be playing it quite so manic (presumably to further distance this secret agent character from M:I's Ethan Hunt), but the premise looks sound and the action looks pretty darn amazing.  There's a new domestic trailer that shows more of it than we've seen before, in more far-flung exotic locations, and there's also a new international trailer up at /film here, which reveals even more.  I really love that international trailer.  It's clear that director James Mangold really packs in the action!  I'm getting a kind of True Lies vibe here; this is another Hollywood stab at the Bond formula.  I love what we see of that European street chase, even if the motorcycle bits do seem lifted from Tomorrow Never Dies. Overall, it's shaping up to be a good summer for spies.  I'm really looking forward to both of these movies!  Knight & Day opens June 25; Salt opens July 23.

Apr 24, 2010

Classic Seventies Spy Scores On CD

FSM has released the scores for two Seventies spy classics, both by composer Michael Small, on one new CD.  The latest in their line of Silver Age Classics includes over 54 minutes of music from 1976's Marathon Man (including alternate cues) and 24 minutes from The Parallax View (1974).  According to the label's website, "Marathon Man, although produced second, comes first on this CD as it is newly mixed from the original 16-track 2” multitrack tapes for modern stereo sound. No scoring session masters survived for The Parallax View, so its score is presented in mono (given a light stereo reverb for listenability) from the film’s edited music stem."  As can be expected from FSM, the CD includes extensive liner notes (by Scott Bettencourt and Jeff Bond) in the booklet, and even more information on their website. You can listen to samples at Film Sore Monthly or order the CD directly from Screen Archives Entertainment for just $19.95. This release is limited to 3000 units.
Michael Caine Is Harry Brown

Michael Caine’s latest “Harry” isn’t a spy and bears little in common with Palmer or even Anders, but the role does represent one of the Sixties’ biggest spy stars in absolutely top form. The easy logline for Harry Brown is that it’s Taken meets Gran Torino, but the Taken comparison (encouraged by the action-packed trailers and badass poster) actually does the film a disservice. It's a bit more Taxi Driver. Yes, Harry Brown ultimately builds toward some shattering scenes of an old guy kicking serious ass, but the film doesn’t take place in the heightened reality of a Luc Besson vehicle. Harry Brown lives in a depressingly recognizable real world, and suffers all the real-world drawbacks of aging. Director Daniel Barber’s film unspools at a deliberate, somewhat languid pace, firmly establishing Harry’s sad, lonely life and all the most unpleasant aspects of aging. Everyone Harry knows is dying off. His wife is in a rapidly-declining catatonic condition in a hospital, and he fears she doesn’t even know when he’s there despite his dutiful daily visits. His only daughter died long ago, and he appears to have no one else. His own health is failing, too, and he must use an inhaler to combat emphysema. Making matters even worse, the housing project where he lives is thoroughly unsafe. The tenement is controlled by a gang of savage kids in hoodies who spend their days dealing drugs and engaging in random acts of violence for thrills, such as shooting pregnant women. At night they occupy the underpass that stands between Harry and the hospital his wife is at, delaying him in seeing her for his fear of walking through. The police seem utterly ineffectual at maintaining order in the slum, although not for lack of trying on the part of the wonderful Emily Mortimer’s Detective Inspector Alice Frampton, who's frustrated by all the dead ends thrown up against her, but uncompromising in her adherence to the letter of the law.

The first half of Harry Brown is a pure character study, examining a man alone whose best years (including a medal-studded stint in the Royal Marines which he’d much rather forget) are far behind him, and meticulously developing his oppressive environment. Then something happens that causes him to snap, and Harry’s old marine training (and, crucially, his long-suppressed ability to kill) kicks back in. Harry doesn’t become a vigilante in a single instant, but that one event does put him on a completely credible path that ultimately leads to the bloodbath the trailers would have you believe the entire movie is. Even when performing feats of cheer-inducing action, Harry’s age is still catching up with him. It is cool to watch an old guy kick ass (especially when the old guy in question has such an illustrious history of kicking such ass), but those feats are all more realistic than the ones performed by Harrison Ford in the last Indiana Jones movie or Sean Connery in The Rock. In the midst of a frantic foot chase, Harry’s emphysema catches up with him and he collapses, clawing at the ground. And when the tables are turned on Harry, he’s frankly not capable of putting up too much of a fight. But when he’s in control, he is very much in control, and capable of the same sorts of uncompromising acts of righteous violence as Taken’s Brian Mills or 24's Jack Bauer.

Harry Brown is an at times depressing but ultimately entirely satisfying vigilante drama. An interesting character study, buoyed by a superb performance from Michael Caine, builds to a well-orchestrated bloodbath sure to invoke audiences’ own latent bloodlust, and then give viewers something to think about when they catch themselves cheering at the carnage. It does reference some of Caine’s past work (particularly Get Carter), but never becomes bogged down in any sort of self-referential winking. It’s a film that stands on its own and a great role for Caine at this point in his career. Fans of the actor shouldn’t miss it.

Harry Brown opens theatrically in the United States on April 30. It opened last year in Britain, where it is already available on Region 2 DVD.