Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Mary Steenburgen, Naveen Andrews
Roderick Taylor, Brice Taylor, Cynthia Mort
I have read in recent interviews that Jodie Foster believes her performance in "The Brave One" to be the finest work of her career.
If that is true then, well, Foster should give back her Oscar. Fortunately, this kind of spouting should be deemed little more than Hollywood hype for a film that will need all the hype it can get to be more than a mere blip at the box-office.
"The Brave One" is the story of Erica Bain (Jodie Foster), a New York City radio show host whose love affair with the city is equalled only by her love affair with David (Naveen Andrews). The two spend their days making mad, passionate love. One night, the two lovebirds are viciously attacked with David being killed and Erica being left for dead.
What initially follows this nearly poetic contrast between romance and violence is, initially, a powerful psychological expose' about the impact of violence upon a human being, the healing process and the precarious journey towards overcoming one's fear.
It is in these transition scenes that "The Brave One" is most effective, separating itself from far more base cinema such as Kevin Bacon's recent "Death Sentence" and all of Charles Bronson's "Death Wish" films except for, possibly, the very first one. While this is undoubtedly a Foster we've seen before, given her recent penchant for steel-willed victim roles, Foster is mesmerizing in being able to effectively balance both her character's vulnerability and her absolute will to survive.
Erica becomes paralyzed by fear living in the city she had loved for so long, and watching her wilt under the weight of this fear is devastating. However, once director Neil Jordan's film moves Erica from victim to avenger, the heart of the film largely dissipates from character study to self-righteous action film with occasional forays into Erica's psychological decline along the way.
The first step is becoming empowered...in this case, Erica gets a gun and, practically instantaneously, begins her slow journey back to becoming an empowered woman. By the time she kills a convenience store robber in self-defense, Erica has done practically a 180-degree turn out of the victim role.
Even the "B" movie classic "I Spit On Your Grave" had the decency to only allow the wronged woman to go after her attackers...in "The Brave One," we are expected to buy into Jordan's vision and that of screenwriters Roderick Taylor, Brice Taylor and Cynthia Mort that, somehow, Erica's experience as a victim is justification for her suddenly going "whup ass" on every perceived bad guy in the city.
Sorry, but I ain't buying it.
What "The Brave One" really shows, particularly poignant given the New York City post-9/11 setting is that blindly going after revenge for an injustice is as bad personal politics as it is national and international politics.
Of course, Jordan couldn't just be a brave filmmaker and make the film solely about the vengeful woman and, thus, we're treated to the handsome, sympathetic cop (Terrence Howard) who is constantly on her trail but somehow seems to be sweeping up the mess she leaves behind.
While anyone with half a brain could probably guess that a critic formerly known as The Peaceful Critic" isn't exactly gung ho about the idea of violent revenge, the film could have been a powerful character study had Jordan stuck with it being a psychological expose' and, perhaps, allowed Erica to only go after those who had originally done her wrong. By allowing her to wreak havoc citywide, however, it's impossible to be completely sympathetic with Erica, no matter how savagely she was beaten (especially, on a side note, because she and her boyfriend had been so blindly negligent in entering a Central Park tunnel after dark).
Does a victim ever deserve their crime? Of course not, but sometimes life does require just a touch of common sense and, yes, failure to use said common sense does sometimes have quite the disastrous result.
A truly brave filmmaker would have concerned themselves less with turning "The Brave One" into a market-friendly, violence filled action flick and more concerned with the authentically human story behind Erica Bain's struggle to survive such a horridly traumatic event.
"The Brave One" should have been a tour-de-force for Foster and one of Fall 2007's cinematic highlights...instead, all I can say for it is "Hey, at least it's better than "Death Sentence."
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic