“What did you lot do?” Michael Caine’s character Harry Brown asks the police after the death of his dear friend, Leonard. After pausing for an answer that never comes, he answers for them: “Nuthin.”
Sure, we’ve seen the iconic British star in action movies before, but as he progressed into his sixties, seventies, and now eighties, he became more familiar to audiences in the shepherding roles. He was the one providing wisdom and context to the leading man, whether that be in any number of Christopher Nolan movies (Interstellar, The Prestige, Inception, the Batman trilogy) or outside of them as well (Austin Powers In Goldmember, Miss Congeniality, Kingsman: The Secret Service).
Yet Daniel Barber’s 2009 revenge thriller Harry Brown forced viewers to see Caine in a different light as he kicked ass and took names through a derelict London housing estate. “As far as I’m concerned, Harry Brown’s doing us a favour,” says an investigator at one point, as the body count from the rampage begins to rise. By no means was it the start of the angry old man action movie – heck, James Bond and Die Hard have decades-old franchises out of that – yet Harry Brown hit at exactly the right time. In the almost ten years since, it has become a rite of passage for aging Hollywood legends to cock a Glock at least one more time.
WATCH: Harry Brown airs on SBS at 8:30pm on Friday 28 September.
Although Taken and Harry Brown premiered within a month of each other back in 2008, the latter didn’t get a wide cinematic release until the start of 2009. That meant Liam Neeson had the first bite at the apple as a retired CIA agent who utilises his skillset to find his abducted daughter in Paris. The plots aren’t dissimilar – Caine is a retired from the Royal Marines and has an impressive kill record – but there was a decidedly glossy, Hollywood sheen to Taken compared with Harry Brown’s grit.
The thriller coined the instantly quotable line “I have a very particular set of skills” and reinvigorated Neeson’s career, throwing him back to the top of the A-List as it went on to gross $226M worldwide. Spanning two sequels and a short-lived television series, it also helmed a sub-sub-genre in 'Liam Neeson Revenge Movies': The Commuter, Run All Night, A Walk Among The Tombstones, Non-Stop, The Grey, and of course next year’s Hard Powder where he plays a snowplow driver *snort* out for revenge after the death of his son.
The Expendables (franchise)
What’s better than one angry, old man in an action movie? Try eighty two of them. A reimagining of the little-seen 1988 film of the same name, Sylvester Stallone has been keeping his mates employed since 2010 with The Expendables franchise. Taking the Fast & Furious approach to building a movie series with more is more – more explosions, more muscles, more cast members, more everything – it has definitely found an audience with sequels dropping in 2012 and 2014 respectively.
Literally every aging action star assembles behind Sly for this series, such as Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mel Gibson, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steve Austin, Mickey Rourke, and Eric Roberts. Of course the only way to sustain the energy of such a franchise is to include at least one – sometimes two – token ‘youths’ whose life force is drawn on by the remainder of the cast. Such sacrificial lambs have included Liam Hemsworth, Kellan Lutz, and Glen Powell.
Edge Of Darkness (2010)
Based on the 1985 British television series of the same name, if you can get past the fact the film adaptation stars Mel Gibson then Edge Of Darkness ticks a lot of boxes. After the brutal and bloody execution of his daughter, a Boston homicide detective sets out to unravel the mystery surrounding her death. Starting with her work at a nuclear research facility, he uncovers a conspiracy that reaches deeper than he could have ever imagined.
Effective as the grief stricken father blinded by revenge, Gibson is balanced out by gritty action staple Ray Winstone as a shady government fixer. Directed by Martin Campbell after he wrapped on Bond movie Casino Royale, it’s no coincidence two of his films appear on this list.
The Equalizer (2014)
Also based on a television series about a good man, with bad skills, who is just pushed too far, The Equalizer is notable for a lot of reasons but especially the fact its final fight scene takes place in a Home Depot. There are few things as satisfying as watching someone as confident and capable as Denzel Washington take out baddies one-by-one with a nail gun.
Directed by frequent collaborator Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Magnificent Seven), it features two professionals at the top of their game. It was good enough it spawned the first sequel of Washington’s forty-year career, this year’s The Equalizer 2, which is as good if not better.
The Foreigner (2017)
The second Martin Campbell-directed movie to make an appearance, this action thriller slid under the radar last year. After a few decades of comedic and sometimes goofy leading roles in Hollywood, it’s rare we get to see Jackie Chan go as dark as he does in The Foreigner. He plays a grieving father (is there any other kind?) whose daughter is killed in an IRA bombing.
Leaning hard into his skills as a Vietnam War special operations forces soldier who was trained by the US Military, he then sets out to terrorise an Irish politician, played by Pierce Brosnan, who in his role as a former IRA member knows more than he is letting on.
Harry Brown airs on SBS at 8:30pm on Friday 28 September.