The Brave One (2007) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, language and some sexuality
Running time: 119 min.
Cast: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Nicky Katt, Naveen Andrews, Mary Steenburgen
Director: Neil Jordan
Screenplay: Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor, Cynthia Mort
Foster (Inside Man, Flight Plan) plays New York radio personality Erica Bain, who finds her world crumble when she and her fiancée (Andrews, Grindhouse) are assaulted and battered by a bunch of thugs and left for dead. She wakes from a coma to learn that her beloved has died from his injuries, and not quite feeling like her old self, she buys an illegal handgun to make herself feel safer. It doesn't take long before she uses it, protecting herself from another murderous thug in a shootout. The incident compels her to do more, as she roams the streets looking for more acts of vengeance to commit on criminals. The cops are stymied by the new vigilante on the streets, and none is more interested than Det. Mercer (Howard, Get Rich or Die Tryin'), who befriends Erica, not knowing that she is the one they are looking for.
It's the second vigilante film in 2007, after the more action-oriented Death Sentence, and by comparison, The Brave One at least has a director in Neil Jordan (Breakfast on Pluto, The Good Thief) that knows that to properly bring out character motivation -- we need to see the person think, reflect and anguish before going on a killing spree. The downside is that this film suffers from a fairly hefty set of contrivances to keep the story going, starting off with the happenstance of Bain getting in and out of scrapes, along with some inept police work from what we're supposed to believe are the finest detectives in the city. There are many ways one can look at The Brave One, but I think the only way to truly get maximum enjoyment out of it is to see beneath the surface to examine the moral and ethical questions underneath the manipulative drama, and ignore the conveniences and sillier manipulations in order to be able to bring these deeper questions to light.
Jodie Foster comes full circle in her career, as the first time most of us saw her, she was that young prostitute in Taxi Driver, getting saved by an introspective vigilante as fed up with the New York streets as she is. Now she's the one pulling the trigger, but the cause and turmoil of her actions are more evident in this case. It's a strong performance on her part, sympathetic given what she's gone through, and especially since her victims each seem, at the very least, to perform actions that incite their own demise. Terrence Howard chips in with a subtle and thoughtful performance, and luckily these fine actors carry the movie about 90% of the time.
The Brave One does suffer from major weakness, with the biggest being the fantasy-land elements (the neighbor who seems to see right through her to give her encouraging words when she needs it is one) that take what could have been a harrowing and gritty tale of a woman's desire to ease her troubled soul through acts of brutal retribution and make them seem rather like cheap thrills. I've been exposed to radio enough to know that there's just no way that a person on the air talking about her feelings about the city as she lives day to day is just not going to be one that would captivate audiences in a hustle and bustle city, regardless of how eloquent it is presented. I would say that, given the idiocy of the callers when she finally is forced to take live call-in, these don't sound like people who would want to listen to the prosaic ramblings of a gifted orator, but then I realize that a good portion of the e-mail that I receive come from scholastically challenged people whose right to written communication is to be seriously questioned.
However, to take such a thing away from the movie would also take away some of the depth as well, so I'm willing to entertain the notion mentally that the world that Bain lives in could presumably exist, even though I know in my heart of hearts that it doesn't. The Brave One is a nicely directed and thoughtfully acted piece that is worth seeing for the interesting societal commentary and contemplative musings, even if the story itself suffers from being too inert in some scenes and too quick to jump to the next story point in others. It's a little better than Death Wish, and a whole lot better than Death Sentence, but Foster's appearance is still a constant reminder that it's a far cry from Taxi Driver, a movie that's a work of art that imitates life, rather than just a hazy imitation of the real world and real issues of the day.
©2007 Vince Leo