Mere weeks after Kevin Bacon did his best Charles Bronson imitation in the bloody urban revenge drama Death Sentence, Jodie Foster is recruited for largely the same duty in The Brave One. What’s gotten into Hollywood lately? Are vigilantes suddenly chic again? Is CAA representing Bernie Goetz?
While it would seem a reactionary, NRA-loving action flick isn’t the sort of project that would attract a discerning Oscar winner like Jodie Foster, there are a few telltales signs that the well-acted, handsomely assembled project is reaching beyond the typical shoot-
Traumatized by the encounter, Erica buys herself an illegal handgun from a back-alley merchant. Almost immediately (in a New York minute, one might say), she encounters a string of sleazy murderers, thieves and perverts—all of whom are just itching to be gunned down. Not so surprisingly, our heroine is glad to oblige. In appointing herself judge, jury and executioner, does she become a hero or a villain? Is this justice or revenge? Did we go over this same topic countless times back in the ’80s with Bronson, Eastwood, Norris et al?
While there are a few conversations tying The Brave One into some sort of paranoid, post-9/11 New York culture of fear, we’ve got to be honest about this. For all its aspirations, The Brave One is really just Death Wish with a gender switch, a bunch of soul-searching and a few Sarah McLachlan songs. Though it seems like it wants to condemn vigilantism and violence, the film sure finds a lot of ways to stoke Americans’ worst fears about crime. New York hasn’t looked this scuzzy since, well, Foster’s pal Robert De Niro got a mohawk and gunned down Harvey Keitel.
Sensationalism aside, the film is lifted up by a well-grounded performance from Foster (no surprise there) and some solid direction from helmer Neil Jordan (Mona Lisa, The Crying Game, The Good Thief). As the film progresses, Erica sidles closer to a detective (Terrence Howard from Hustle & Flow) in charge of hunting down NYC’s mysterious new vigilante killer. She finds herself attracted to him and starts to question her bloody vengeance streak. Much as she’d like to put an end to it, she can’t because A) she’s addicted to it, and B) she hasn’t blown away the evil punks who killed her boyfriend yet. Foster has always had an affinity for strong women in peril (from Taxi Driver to The Accused), and she gives her character some much-needed dimension here. Her cat-and-mouse conversations with Howard rank as some of the film’s best moments.
Philosophical as it gets along the way, The Brave One still trundles toward the tried-and-true showdown. The ending, while offering audiences the exact stand-up-and-cheer moment they’ve been waiting for, comes across as far too tidy. Considering the nuanced character work that came before it, one can only assume the ending is the work of misguided audience testing.
In the end, The Brave One is an odd duck: dramatically implausible but viscerally compelling, psychologically trite but quite well acted, armchair liberal but kneejerk conservative. It’s Death Wish for the Lilith Fair set.
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