Plot Outline: “A New York City architect becomes a one-man vigilante squad after his wife is murdered by street punks in which he randomly goes out and kills would-be street muggers on the mean streets after dark.”
That’s the verbatim description, from HYPERLINK "http://www.IMDb.com" www.IMDb.com, (The Internet Movie Data Base) of Death Wish, a 1974 low-budget melodrama starring Charles Bronson. It proved so popular that four sequels were released over the next two decades. Change the gender of the lead, switch the profession from architect to public radio commentator and you have Jodie Foster’s latest, from Irish-born director Neil Jordan. Armed with slick cinematography and a winning supporting performance from the always interesting Terrance Howard, The Brave One oscillates between pious reflections on the toll of urban isolation and grim bloodletting, worthy of Tarantino. What are this acclaimed director and his highly–regarded leading lady trying to accomplish?
Foster, whose face is beginning to look as sculptured as Michael Jackson’s, plays Erica Bain., Her weekly radio show covers the ever-changing physical and psychological terrain of Manhattan, which she describes breathlessly as the camera takes the audience on a tour of the city’s more mundane attractions. She’s deliriously in love with David Kirmani (Naveen Andrews) her Indian fiancé/doctor and affectionately nostalgic about the ebbs and flows of her Upper West Side lifestyle, which she dutifully chronicles for her listeners.
While walking their dog one evening in Central Park, Erica and David are viciously assaulted by a trio of thugs, who put the lovers in intensive care. David dies; but after a long recuperation, Erica emerges from the incident a changed woman. Frightened by her own shadow, she illegally purchases a gun which she puts to use in defending herself in a subsequent bodega holdup. From there it’s a short leap to wiping out punks on the subway, confronting brutal johns preying on street hookers and finally to the elimination of a hardened criminal that Mercer, a veteran New York detective played with quiet determination by Howard, can’t develop sufficient evidence to put away. As Erica ventilates bad guys, Mercer begins to suspect that the vigilante he’s pursuing may be of the female persuasion; when he develops a lead on those responsible for the attack on Erica and her intended, the plot culminates in a climatic shootout as grotesque as it is improbable. The slate wiped clean, Erica wanders off into the night with only her guilt and faithful mutt as companions…
Jordan’s resume includes a pair of Oscars and a number of wonderful films, (Mona Lisa, The Crying Game, The Good Thief etc) interspersed with some others, (The Butcher Boy, Michael Collins) every bit as interesting if less commercially successful, so it would be intriguing to know just what appealed to him in this material, fashioned from a story developed by a trio of experienced screenwriters from series-television. Although the storyline’s setting is contemporary, it harkens back to a time in which New Yorkers felt paralyzed by random violence; (remember the 1984 subway shooting of four black teenagers intent on robbing Bernard Goetz?) His name is invoked by one of the detectives in Brave One’s script and the reference serves as a perfect reflection of the city’s pre-terrorism era, when The Big Apple’s dangers were almost exclusively domestic.
Jordan’s too gifted a director to craft a dull movie and Foster’s patented intensity is on full display - - but what is it about her performances that consistently hints at artificiality? Working first in television at age 5 and in feature films almost exclusively since her disturbingly vivid portrait of a young prostitute in Taxi Driver at age 14, Foster’s nearly three dozen films since then have consistently demonstrated the actress’s talents while also presenting someone as closed-off on screen as she appears to be off it. Furthermore, (her nifty role as a man-eating political “fixer” in Inside Man to the contrary notwithstanding) her last few appearances are remarkably narrow in focus, little more than riffs on the same character, an unhappy woman hounded by circumstance into brutal confrontations with a series of morally repugnant, physically abusive men. From Panic to Flight Plan to the movie under review, Ms. Foster risks creating a stereotypical screen persona that could well impede her career.
Mr. Howard on the other hand, grows more versatile with each role he undertakes; whether he’s a self-absorbed pimp, (Hustle & Flow) a buttoned-up minority executive subjected to humiliation at the hands of the police, (Crash) or a risk-taking television cameraman, (The Hunting Party) Howard exudes a naturalism that his more famous co-star simply can’t compete with. If anyone in this movie deserves sympathy, it’s this actor’s decent, middle-class police detective, not the talk-show hostess; she’s been victimized once, while Howard’s muted performance suggests a lifetime of stoic battles with adversity. His sacrifice at the film’s end is ludicrous, but it makes limited sense only because of the performance which precedes it.
The Verdict? The Brave One isn’t a bad film…but a combination of Foster’s predictability and the sanctimonious tone of her voice-overs in the script don’t make for a very interesting one either.
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