Brave One, The

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 09/14/07 01:47:13

"Why Jodie, why? Likewise, Mr. Jordan, likewise."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

One day, Jodie Foster, Terence Howard, and writer/director Neil Jordan ("Breakfast on Pluto," "The End of the Affair," "The Butcher Boy," "Michael Collins," "The Crying Game," "Mona Lisa," "The Company of Wolves") will have to answer for "The Brave One," a loose, uncredited remake of Michael Winner's "Death Wish" that's also an interminable, muddled, melodramatic, exploitative, retrograde revenge fantasy that's sadly a discredit to everyone involved. Why Foster, Howard, or Jordan became involved or what they saw in a formulaic, overwritten screenplay by Roderick Taylor and Bruce A. Taylor ("American Outlaws") is a mystery that will, forevermore, remain unsolved. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here. Let's break it down, from the beginning.

Not surprisingly, The Brave One sets up the lead character, Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) for a hard, tragic fall from the outset. After all, no fall, no film. Bulky digital recorder in hand, Erica records the sounds and stories of New York City and shares them with the listeners of her radio program. At home, her life is no less perfect: she's engaged to David Kirmani (Naveen Andrew, in a thankless role), a well-respected doctor (are there any other kind?) at a local hospital. Walking their dog one night in Central Park, Erika and David let their guard down (assuming, of course, it was up). Several thugs appear seemingly out of nowhere and, after a heated exchange, brutally beat Erika and David. Erika barely survives. David doesn't. Erika emerges from a three-week coma traumatized and devastated, her perfect life gone and recovery seemingly impossible. The police’s early efforts to find the thugs prove fruitless. Erika’s attempts to follow up with the investigation lead nowhere.

Frustrated and still traumatized, Erika decides to buy a firearm, presumably for self-protection. When she discovers that New York has a 30-day waiting period before she can purchase a firearm, she buys a gun illegally. Before she's even going to a practice range, an opportunity to use the handgun arises in a convenience store shooting. Empowered by using the handgun (nope, no phallic symbols here), Erika begins to seek dangerous situations, first in a subway, then on a deserted street with a john, and on and on, until, finally, Death Wish- or Taxi Driver-style, she flings herself into a violent confrontation against the street thugs she's been looking for all along (actually, she hasn't been looking for them). A New York City detective, Mercer (Terence Howard), begins to suspect Erika’s involvement in the vigilante shootings, but can’t proceed until he uncovers enough evidence. But his deepening relationship with Erika’s complicates matters.

That, briefly, is The Brave One, a sadly unoriginal revenge fantasy that alternates manipulative scenes of violence with scenes of Erika introspectively engaging in incredibly banal voiceover narration about life, liberty, and handguns. To call the voiceover narration awful is an understatement that doesn’t quite capture how truly cringe-inducing it can be as the screenwriters try to insert profundity into otherwise banal observations about living in New York, mortality, and the empowering, if no less corrosive, effects of being both victim and perpetrator. As The Brave One wears on (and "wears" is the right word to use here), it also becomes more and more implausible with each coincidence. These often illogical or convenient coincidences ultimately reveal The Brave One for what it is: an exploitation flick masquerading as a serious drama about an important social problem. It's not.

Just as bad or even worse, though, is what The Brave One reveals about the producers' perspectives on race, gender, and class. While Americans of Indian descent fare best, The Brave One gives us a sensitive, respectable African-American detective to counterbalance one set of thugs who attempt to assault Erika on a subway, but gives no such balance to the depiction of Latino characters. The men who initially assault Erika and David are Latino in appearance and act remorselessly. Likewise with the shifty Chinese man who sells Erika the handgun and ammunition from a dark alley in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Not surprisingly, women fare better in The Brave One, but not by much. Without a firearm, Erika is powerless (as one of the last scenes clearly indicates), but with a handgun, she can restore order and balance to crime-ridden New York (because after all, violent crime against the middle- or upper-classes is endemic in cities).

With a muddled, derivative storyline covering up a disturbing subtext, the only mystery here is what Jodie Foster and Neil Jordan were thinking when they decided to work on something well beneath their respective talents. Maybe it was the lure of working with each other that drew Foster and Jordon to "The Brave One." Maybe one or both of them were suffering financial hardship and needed the sizable paycheck that comes with working on a film in Hollywood or maybe there was something in the screenplay that convinced them to make "The Brave One" together. Whatever the reason or reasons, the end result isn't going to add much to their curriculum vitas (in fact, quite the opposite).

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