The Veteran (2011)

England is teeming with terrorists, druggies and violent council estates where evil is seated on a throne fashioned out of sports hoodies. If recent British cinema has taught us anything (see Harry Brown and Heartless among many others), it’s that nowhere is safe. With The Veteran, we can add Post-Traumatic Stress-suffering war vets to that list of dangerous British ill-doers.

Set in a recognisably mucked-up, breeze-block crammed London, The Veteran follows Robert Miller (Toby Kebbell), a young soldier who returns from Afghanistan and soon realises that it won’t be as simple as all that to ease back into his old life. The battered council estate where he lives is infested with druggie yoofs, and before long Miller’s been contracted by Brian Cox’s mysterious government figure to monitor suspected terrorists. But could nation-straddling fellow operative Alayna (Adi Bielski) have turned into a terrorist sympathiser?

Cautionary tale, social commentary, bleak character study; The Veteran has its gun barrel aimed at all kinds of red letter targets, but it never quite hits the bull’s eye. The same can even be said for magnetic lead man Kebbell, whose Miller is an interesting character desperately searching for a plot. Kebbell (RockNRolla, Prince Of Persi) is undeniably enigmatic, a man’s man with soulful eyes, but his episodic encounters with dealers, victims and shady government types lack much discernable tension, and are crying out for a more urgent sense of direction.

Veteran’s final 10 minutes are the ones that will cause a stir in the headlines (we won’t spoil them here, though the Daily Mail are going to have a field day), but considering the whole film not-so-subtly builds up to them, their power is decidedly muted. Kebbell’s a young actor going places, for sure. Unfortunately this home-grown cautionary-character-commentary just isn’t ballsy enough to take him all the way. 2/5

Via Out In The City

Harry Brown (2009)

Ever have one of those days when getting out of bed just doesn’t seem worth it? Harry Brown (Michael Caine) has more of those than you. See, his wife’s just split, leaving Harry alone on an estate swarming with teens trussed up like mini gangsters. Not even the pub where he plays chess with old (and only) chum Leonard (David Bradley) is safe – even there, the blighters parade illegal substances in blinding daylight. Oh, the youth of today.

And things are about to get worse. “I’m scared all the time, Harry,” whimpers Leonard, before he is hacked to death in the nearby underpass. Asked by DI Frampton (Emily Mortimer) if his friend had expressed any concerns, Harry shrugs. “Just kids,” he gruffs. But, now burning with a blistering sense of purpose, ex-Marine Harry (important, that) has a plan: armed with his own artillery, he’s determined to clean the riff raff off the estate no matter what the cost.

Echoing concerns briefly tangled with in Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, Harry Brown makes no bones about it: this tale of vigilante vengeance is Meant To Shock. Bursting out of the starting gate with a dizzying, phone-recorded attack on a young mother, and climaxing in a violent orgy of blood and fire, director Daniel Barber shoves it all up there on-screen, unapologetic and fiercely in-your-face.

The moralising may be as subtle as a kick in the teeth, but Harry Brown isn’t really concerned with realism. This is a horror movie vision of a very possible future, where the values of yesteryear have been cemented over by an ASBO uprising. The cartoon violence is indeed shocking, but in a histrionic, slasher flick way. And the sensationalism extends to the film’s troublesome teens; bruised, animalistic vagrants dwarfed in ridiculousness only by a grotesque, scarred drug dealer. In contrast, the police are ineffectual, toffee-nosed fools.

Caine, at least, is fantastic. Playing Harry like a retired Jack Carter, he brings much-needed pathos to the film’s loud pontificating, and softens its rough edges with some well-timed comedy (dark and dry though it may be).

But there’s always that nagging feeling that Barber could have forged a far more affecting film by employing a defter touch. As it is, Harry Brown’s attempted social commentary is all but drowned out by the scream of bullets and profanity. Still, it’s worth getting out of bed for.

Anticipation: Revenge of the OAPs! Bring on the carnage. 4

Enjoyment: It’s bloody and brutal, and as over the top as anything by Quentin Tarantino. 3

In Retrospect: Gran Torino’s meaner older brother; but its bark is worse than its bite. 3

Via Little White Lies