The Brave One
Director : Neil Jordan
Screenplay : Roderick Taylor & Bruce A. Taylor and Cynthia Mort (story by Roderick Taylor & Bruce A. Taylor)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2007
Stars : Jodie Foster (Erica Bain), Terrence Howard (Detective Mercer), Nicky Katt (Detective Vitale), Naveen Andrews (David Kirmani), Mary Steenburgen (Carol), Ene Oloja (Josai), Luis Da Silva Jr. (Lee), Blaze Foster (Cash), Rafael Sardina (Reed), Jane Adams (Nicole)
Who would have though that, when two vigilante movies come out within a few weeks of each other, the one starring and coproduced by Jodie Foster and directed by Neil Jordan would be more reactionary and ideologically simplistic than the one made by the director of Saw? Yet, that is exactly what has happened. The Brave One, which follows James Wan's Death Sentence by only a few weeks, has every outward sign of being a troubling, thoughtful, challenging film about the nature of fighting violence with violence, returning an eye for eye. Yet, it is the very opposite, in the end unproblematically accepting and enabling its heroine's turn to the gun for answers and downplaying any potentially psychological implications. Kevin Bacon may lose his whole family in his pursuit of vengeance in Death Sentence. In The Brave One, Jodie Foster gets her dog back.
Foster plays Erica Bain, the host of a successful radio talk show in New York City. One night she and her fiancée, David Kirmani (Naveen Andrews), make the mistake of going through the wrong tunnel in Central Park. They are ambushed by a gang of thugs, and when David fights back, he is beaten to death with a crowbar and Erica is beaten to within an inch of her life. She spends three weeks in a coma, and when she finally gets out of the hospital, she finds that she is crippled with fear, so much so that it is difficult for her to leave her apartment (which is, of course, filled with reminders of David).
To give herself some sense of stability and safety, she (illegally) purchases a 9mm automatic, which she has an opportunity to use almost immediately when she is caught in the middle of a violent domestic dispute in a convenience store late one night. Putting a bullet in a wife-killer's throat not only makes her feel safe again, but empowers her to take to the streets and start wasting the dregs of society Charles Bronson-style. The film's allegiance to the Death Wish school of righteous reactionary violence is shockingly unproblematic, even with the gender twist of having the vigilante be a woman. Yet, what is intriguing, but ultimately disappointing, about The Brave One is that Erica's being a woman makes virtually no difference. Her violence is not distinguished in any way by her sex, and the film could have just as easily had a male actor in the role.
The Brave One also incorporates a subplot involving police detective Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard), who is investigating Erica's killings while simultaneously developing a relationship with her that is easily the screenplay's most strained device. There is real possibility in the idea of the investigator getting to know the object of his investigation, but the way it is developed by Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor, and Cynthia Mort's screenplay is rather incredulous. Howard and Foster, both excellent actors of great range, have no chemistry together and their relationship doesn't stick. It doesn't help either that Mercer is given a subplot in which he is trying to put behind bars a slimy corporate criminal who keeps slipping through the system due to money and lawyers, which is clearly intended to align his interests with Erica's (the need for extralegal justice), but only detracts from the momentum of the rest of the film. Their relationship culminates at the end of the film in a violent climax so preposterous that it almost feels like a joke.
What is ultimately most disappointing about The Brave One, though, is how simplistic it is. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but the presence of Foster and director Neil Jordan suggests something more than a highly stylized Death Wish rehash. The film seems almost willfully misleading in this respect, pretending on the surface to be something it is not (the poster shows a dramatic image of Foster holding a gun in one hand and her head in the other, suggesting a level of emotional conflict that the film itself pays mere lip service to).
An actor of Foster's caliber deserves a character with more complexity and nuance, but here it's all visual. Jordan emphasize her small stature in order to underscore the idea that everyone is capable of violence, but that's an insight that will only get you so far. You can sense Foster trying to build up Erica into a portrait of inner conflict, but the film doesn't give her room. Erica's gun is her salvation, and the film thrives on the easy kicks it delivers by allowing her to pop the baddies, even to the point of giving her self-righteous send-off lines to get the audience cheering (“I want my dog back!”). Such audience baiting is not inherently wrong in and of itself, but in The Brave One it suggests a real lack of imagination on the part of the filmmakers and a sad capitulation to the idea that violence is the only answer.
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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