Compelling combination: Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler
If one were to chart the reasons for the arts' gradual transformation (now almost complete) into a fully-paid up, fuzzy part of the leisure industry, their avoidance of — or indeed contempt for — the issues which concern most people now would be striking. Immigration, for example, in the form of Richard Bean's play England People Very Nice, has reared its head only recently. And what about crime and social breakdown? A couple of shortish plays, but otherwise nothing. Perhaps the left-liberal sensibility dominating much of the cultural scene is, like the outside world, finding it increasingly difficult to cope. Its sworn belief that murder and mayhem are, naturally, the result of social deprivation is being put under a real strain, so best to leave it alone. Who knows, perhaps the hearts have even stopped bleeding just a little.
There is one exception to this creative refusal to engage: the vigilante film. These B-movies are mostly considered by the bien pensants to be beyond the pale, exploitative and even dangerous. We're not supposed to like them. But their popularity, and the visceral response they evoke in audiences, is proof that they get to the parts other arts cannot or will not reach. Dirty Harry and Death Wish appeared in the first half of the 1970s at a time when crime was rising steeply and the public detected (rightly, as it turned out) a serious failure of will on the part of law-makers and enforcers. The first is a popular classic, the second a kind of cinematic guilty pleasure and both made millions.
Two vigilante films have appeared in the past month, just as, in the real world, each day seems to bring news of a fresh random atrocity, and the rising public despair at the supine, uncomprehending response from officialdom becomes almost palpable. Michael Caine's latest release, Harry Brown, portrays an old ex-army man driven to take up arms against the human trash terrorising the council estate on which he lives a beleaguered existence. The affection with which Caine is held undoubtedly helps a film such as this, although some of the earlier reviews made the predictable references to anti-liberal stereotyping and "fascistic" politics.