To say that Michael Caine deserves an Oscar for his performance in this film is to give the Oscar too much credit. Caine deserves to have other actors fall silent whenever he enters a room and nod respectfully in his direction, resuming their own conversations only after he’s passed by. Playing an Old Age Pensioner in a crime-ridden housing estate (a British housing project) who finally goes Death Wish on the thugs who torment him, Caine brings a world of talent and a lifetime of experience to creating a character of wholeness and humanity. He’s amazing.
A round of applause also for Sean Harris, who plays a drug addicted dealer in the film’s best set piece. I’ve heard Harris’s performance here described as over-the-top. That’s the voice of elite inexperience talking. It’s an absolutely exact depiction of evil: not moustache-twirling glee but a kind of walking death. It’s a wonderful performance as well.
As for the film itself, I recommend it with this caveat. Almost all British filmmakers confuse “depressing” with “worthy.” The first half hour of this picture is crushingly sad and unpleasant. Once the shooting starts, it becomes a real movie, but until then, it’s a genuine bring-down. That said, I found it worth it for Caine’s performance, for Harris’s and also for the movie’s moral outlook, which is clear-eyed and uncompromising. Plus there’s Emily Mortimer, whom I find incredibly appealing. But just so you know, it’s an unhappy half hour to start. After that, good stuff.