Brave One, The

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 09/16/07 17:48:54

"It's only revengesploitation on the surface."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Some have asked why Jodie Foster and Neil Jordan, director of such modern classics as 'Mona Lisa' and 'The Crying Game,' would stoop to make a 'vigilante flick' like 'The Brave One.' Well, why not?

Neither of them is a stranger to pulp (has everyone forgotten Silence of the Lambs and Interview with the Vampire?); it's what you do with the pulp. As it happens, Foster and Jordan have collaborated on a 9/11 requiem -- a meditation on what happens when violence splinters your trust in a city you love. It's an open wound of a film, yearning for healing that comes hard-won, if at all. Foster's character takes the easy route, though it proves to be not quite so easy.

Erica Bain (Foster) hosts a New York radio show filled with sounds of the city, blanketed by her literary musings. She's about to get married to David (Naveen Andrews), a doctor. This upper-class liberal couple go for an evening walk with their dog and end up facing the liberal's worst guilty nightmare -- a group of Hispanic punks who seem to embody every hostile ethnic stereotype. The ordeal ends with David dead, the dog abducted, and Erica in the hospital. (Is she raped? We assume so, though the movie never comes right out and tells us.) Once she gets out, she can't sleep, and no longer feels safe in the city that once gave up its secrets to her microphone. So she gets a gun, and many chances to use it soon present themselves.

I don't think The Brave One is saying, or trying to say, anything about the politics or morality of what Erica does. For Foster, it's another part of her ongoing project to take a scenario nobody blinks at if it involves a guy (Kevin Bacon's Death Sentence, which opened three weeks ago, was greeted with yawns) and see what happens if it involves a woman. Erica's hands don't shake when she kills, but her system rebels in other ways; after the first shooting (a homicidally abusive husband in a convenience store, played by horror director Larry Fessenden) Erica gets a taste for it, though she doesn't enjoy it. She does, however, enjoy talking to Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard) under the pretense of interviewing him for her show; they end up discussing how it feels to be powerless and powerful. It doesn't escape us that a woman and a black man are talking about power and its corruptive and comforting aspects.

Neil Jordan has never been one to take violence lightly, and neither has Foster. The Brave One obscures the carnage, denying us the action-movie kicks "vigilante flicks" are usually known for. It also doesn't point up the ugliness of Erica's actions, but we see enough of that in Foster's eyes. She makes Erica hollower inside with each killing, and further away from the secure, happy New Yorker she used to be. By the time Erica goes after someone who hasn't threatened her first (but who is, conveniently, a scumbag), her M.O. has crossed the line from self-defense to assassination. The Brave One is an odd and unresolved experience, coming down neither for nor against vigilante justice. Its emphasis lies on Erica's transformation.

The script gets gimmicky in the final third, with a minor character having a change of heart and messaging Erica not only a crucial address but incriminating evidence. This isn't a realistic film, and neither, really, was Taxi Driver, the high-water mark of this sort of movie. It's as much about the unfocused feelings of vengeful rage many Americans had after 9/11 as about a woman going on a killing spree. Shooting a couple of subway thugs who had nothing to do with killing your boyfriend might make you feel better in the short term but won't make you any safer in the long term.

'The Brave One' is a why-are-we-in-Iraq fable in disguise, just as earlier high-toned pulp films like 'Deliverance' were why-are-we-in-Vietnam essays in the form of an action movie. It says that revenge scratches an itch but doesn't know when to stop scratching.

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