Brave One, The

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/14/07 00:37:24

"Everybody Run--Nina Totenberg's Got A Gun!"
1 stars (Sucks)

I would like to begin by offering for your consideration two assertions that I think that most of us can agree on. The first is that Jodie Foster is one of our strongest and smartest American actresses–a fearless and talented individual who almost always offers up a completely committed and focused performance when she steps in front of a camera. The second is that Neil Jordan is a fascinating filmmaker whose works, for the most part, are almost always worth checking out and who has demonstrated the ability to work well, for the most part, whether he is helming a big-league blockbuster like “Interview With the Vampire” or smaller, more personal works like “The Crying Game,” “The Butcher Boy” or “Breakfast on Pluto.” It would pretty much stand to reason that any film combining the talents of these two individuals would almost have to a smart and intriguing work or else it is highly unlikely that either of them would have gotten involved with it in the first place.

Because of this combination of talents, I went into “The Brave One” with more than a little bit of genuine anticipation. While the basic premise made it sound like a rehash of “Death Wish,” I just assumed since Foster and Jordan were involved, it would somehow transcend the concept and transform into something far removed from it. Two hours later, I walked out of the screening stunned, disappointed and angry that it not only didn’t transcend its hackneyed premise, it didn’t even live up to it. This is a smug, self-satisfied hymn to vigilante justice that wants to appeal to the lowest common denominator but that isn’t its real sin. No, the real sin of this film is that it is a smug, self-satisfied hymn to vigilante justice that has somehow convinced itself that it is a far more powerful and thoughtful examination on the concepts of loss and revenge than it actually is. Forget about comparing this film to “Death Wish,” as many already have–this isn’t good enough to deserve comparison to “Death Wish 4: The Crackdown.”

Foster stars as Erica Ban, a correspondent for a New York public radio station who specializes in recording the sounds of the city while offering commentary on how the times are changing. When she isn’t inducing her listeners with paralyzing boredom, she spends her time being deliriously happy with hunky finacee David (Naveen Andrews). Ironically, her life is turned upside-down by the reappearance of one aspect of life in the Big Apple that had supposedly disappeared when she and David are brutally attacked by a gang of thugs while walking their dog in the park–David is killed, Erica winds up in a coma for three weeks and the dog has disappeared. After returning home to an apartment filled with nothing but memories of her previous life, Erica pretty much breaks down and is unable to work or even to leave her building without going into panic attacks over the dangers that she now sees everywhere. Finally, she musters the strength to leave her apartment but after a few minutes on the streets, she finds herself running into the nearest gun shop in order to pick up some protection. Alas, she seems to be shocked to discover that they have those pesky waiting periods–damn liberals!–but luckily, she comes across a friendly black-market dealer whom she cheerfully follows into a deserted alley in order to purchase a piece from him–heck, he even throws in the bullets for free. Later on, in perhaps the film’s most obvious homage to Foster’s previous film about one person cleaning up the streets of the Big Apple, Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” she is shopping at a local bodega when the cashier is shot by her crazed husband and Erica instinctively pulls out her gun and kills the guy herself before slipping away unnoticed (after making sure to remove the videotape from the store’s security camera).

At first, Erica is horrified about what she has done–cue the symbolic scene in which she takes a fully-clothed shower in an effort to wash away her sins–but before long, she begins to discover an appetite for vengeance within her. She gets to sate that appetite a few nights later when she is accosted by a couple of punks on the subway while recording sounds for her show and blows them both away–luckily for her, not only is her train otherwise empty, the entire station contains nary a person and she is once again able to get away scot-free. From this point on, Erica begins going out at night looking for the kind of trouble that she can dispose of with a couple of bullets while spending her days on the radio discussing the mysterious vigilante who is causing a stir. To this end, she makes the acquaintance of Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard), a by-the-book detective who may well be the last cop in New York City with a clear definition of right and wrong and who is investigating Erica’s handiwork.

In other words, there really isn’t anything here that you haven’t seen before in any number of films dealing with vigilante justice–it follows the same basic template that we have seen in films ranging from such artistic endeavors as “In The Bedroom” to populist hits like “Death Wish” to such grindhouse titles as the still-astonishing “Fight For Your Life.” Once again, we are treated to such sights as utterly innocent people who are pushed to the edge by a world gone wrong, utterly evil people who seem to be on every corner just waiting to do said pushing in the most despicable ways imaginable, clueless cops who seem to be going out of their way not to try to solve any of the crimes inundating their city and plot contrivances that allow our heroes to go on their killing sprees without ever getting caught. Hell, even the idea of the vigilante in question being a woman, which is clearly the selling point of this particular film, isn’t even that original–even if you discount “Thelma & Louise” on the grounds that it isn’t a true vigilante film, you still have such earlier examples as “They Call Her One-Eye” and Abel Ferrara’s 1979 masterpiece “Ms. 45.”

The thing about those movies is that while not all of them embraced the concept of someone picking up a gun and simply blowing their tormentors (or potential tormentors) away, they at least had the honesty to admit that this was the subject that they were dealing with. By comparison, “The Brave One” is a vigilante film that has somehow convinced itself that it is something more than just a mere vigilante film–in interviews, Jodie Foster has gone so far as to suggest that it is more akin to “Taxi Driver” than “Death Wish.” That would be fine if the film did somehow transcend the genre but it instead tenaciously clings to the parameters of the genre while pretending to do otherwise. It is this attitude more than anything else that really annoyed me as I was watching “The Brave One”–the other films that I have mentioned here at least had the courage of their convictions while this one ducks them so thoroughly that you begin to suspect that whomever decided to title the film “The Brave One” was trying to be ironic.

Of course, the other thing that those other titles that I have mentioned had that “The Brave One” lacks is a coherent and plausible screenplay. For a movie that wants to be seen as plausible and realistic, there is a sense of cheesy contrivance that permeates virtually every scene. Even if we somehow manage to accept the notion that depraved monsters are suddenly coming out of the woodwork to attack Erica the minute that she herself is touched by violence–when she walks down the street one night, a vicious pimp immediately assumes that she is a prostitute and lures her into a sick scene in which she has to rescue a young hooker (Zoe Kravitz) who is his virtual prisoner–we are forced to accept the various contortions that the screenplay goes through in order to make sure that no one notices what she is up to. This is made a little easier by the fact that, based on the available evidence, it appears that the only two working cops in the entire city are Howard and his partner (a hilariously acerbic Nicky Katt). Then there is the neighbor of Erica’s who just happens to reveal herself as both a nurse, just at the point when she needs medical attention but cannot go to a hospital without raising many questions, and as a survivor of the horrors of Rwanda, just at a point when she needs encouragement to continue on with her vengeful activities. Most enraging is the utterly absurd climax in which Erica manages to finally track down her original attackers through means too implausible to get into here while the detective, who now knows the entire story of what happened, bends his by-the-book outlook in a way that is so infuriating that even those who have somehow managed to swallow the rest of the film up until that point will likely come away feeling cheated by the way it completely cops out on the issues that it has been raising for the previous two hours.

And yet, amidst all of the brainless bloodshed and shaky justifications on display–you can’t even call it “fascist” because that would suggest a commitment to some kind of ethos that this film completely lacks–there is the undeniably strong and sure central performance from Jodie Foster. As I said at the beginning of this review, she is virtually incapable of delivering a bad performance (she even managed to be halfway convincing in something as dippy as that “Fightplan” nonsense) and she proves that once again here with a dark and haunting turn as Erica (at least in the scenes that allow her to carve out some space for the character instead of simply pushing her from one plot contrivance to the next)–she is fierce and convincing in her steely-eyed vengeance mode and reasonably sympathetic in her scenes with Terrence Howard, who does his best in an otherwise thankless role. If only we were able to see the film that she clearly must have thought she was making instead of the one that she actually made, “The Brave One” might have truly been a penetrating look at an average person trying to cope with the aftermath of violence instead of the exercise in senseless sadism that it turned out to be.

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