Have you seen the film? It's classic Michael Caine: good old-fashioned working class man has enough of the violent louts on the estate. It's gritty, for sure - the opening scene is of a couple of lads burning a little motorbike round the estate, shooting at a mum with a pram for fun. And it's deeply satisfying, as the old man Harry Brown decides he can do something (with perfect one-liners thrown in: 'You should have called an ambulance - for the girl!').
But as one critic (voxy.co.nz) points out: 'Even the basic tenant of vigilantism, not exactly a hot new concept, gets a stupefyingly simplistic treatment – it just plain works. Kill the kids who are part of your neighbourhood’s woes and the problems will simply go away.'
I thought the film was great. But, yes, the simplistic plot sells us short on four accounts:
(a) In real life, you can't do it. You can't sort out the problems. 'I see violence and strife in the city, day and night' (Psalm 55:9). We have to watch films about it, because real life it so rarely ends well.
(b) The film portrayed the depth of evil very well, and the reality of a godless society. But the seeds of utter depravity in the young thugs were sown by the previous generations who thought there was decent morality without Christ. Start making your own rules, and that's where it leads. Harry Brown: I'd rather have you as my neighbour than most. But you too are partly responsible for the mess. 'There is no-one righteous, not even one' (Romans 3:10).
(c) Films like this presuppose that Jesus is pretend. And if he's pretend, we have to take judgement into our own hands. But he will judge, utterly and fairly, in reality. I love the Michael Caine and Clint Eastwood characters. But they're hopelessly pale shadows of the real thing. And we have what they're craving: 'Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.' (Romans 12:19)
(d) With Jesus, there is the hope of mercy. The society in Harry Brown's estate seems totally beyond redemption. So kill 'em. Actually, we've seen that the grace of God has the most incredible power to turn the hardest of them. Lives ravaged by heroin, violence, lovelessness and perversion of every kind are not beyond the power of God's Spirit. We've got plenty of testimonies to prove it. It's true that 'There but by the grace of God go I'; but it goes further still: my sin is no less serious in living my 'upright' life ... in total disregard for my loving Maker. 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst.' (1 Timothy 1:15)