It seems like it was just last week we were discussing revenge flicks… largely because it was! In a week’s time, we’ve moved from Death Sentence – which, in its lowbrow, exploitation, B-movie way said more about actions and consequences than anyone could have expected – to The Brave One, in which Neil Jordan takes a shot at the genre in a slickly produced film that relies on the talents of its stars to overcome its shortcomings.
Vengeance is a dish best served cold, or so we’ve been told over and over again. Vigilantism is bad. Yet some of our most iconic heroes [The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, Batman, on so on…] who were fueled by the need for vengeance.
The Brave One’s biggest departure from the standard vengeance flick is two-fold: the cast and budget, and the use of a female protagonist. Otherwise, it seems all too formulaic – from the snapshot look at Ellen Bain’s [Jodie Foster] wonderful life: hosting a public radio series in which she rhapsodizes about a past new York that might not actually have existed in the terms of her nostalgic gaze, and her relationship with hunky, yet sensitive doctor [Naveen Andrews] who is both gentle and passionate.
When their idyllic existence is shattered by an act of violence that not only kills him and leaves her a mass of scarred and purple flesh, but also results in the theft of their dog, she [rightly] falls apart. For a time after her physical recovery, she is unable to leave her apartment. When she finally does go out, it’s to visit a gun shop and try to buy a gun [in one of the film’s subtle artifices, it’s a shop she saw in a photo that was part a photo exhibition held at a friend’s art gallery]. When she learns she needs a licence and that it will take time, she wails, “I won’t last that long!” and flees out into the street – where she is approached by a man who just happened to be in the shop.
So, off they go to Chinatown, where [for the bargain basement sum of a thousand dollars] he provides her with a gun – he throws in the bullets for free… Not much later. She’s picking up something in a convenience store when a man bursts in and shoots the store clerk – his wife – over visitation rights. Erica almost hyperventilates and her gasps give away her presence and the man comes after her, but she is able to hit him with one of three shots and kill him.
It is at this point that Jordan’s foray into the genre takes something of an odd turn. At one point, when asked how she put herself back together, her response that she became someone else – a stranger. Yet there are shards of the broken person she’d become still remaining. Watching a shard of Foster’s broken self almost get her killed before the stranger takes over is a harrowing experience.
What’s more, when she encounters Terrance Howard’s Detective Mercer and expresses the change that has enabled her to move on with her life, he seems to understand. Unfortunately, the bond that begins to build between them is put to the test when she starts placing herself in dangerous situations and using her new gun to get out of them. Before one such situation, she calls him and inadvertently gives him a clue that the mysterious vigilante in the news might just be her. Like all films that tackle vengeance and vigilantism, The Brave One builds to an encounter with the three men who brutalized her, killed her dog, and killed her fiancée [“I just want my dog back”].
Naturally, the sequence finds her being confronted by Detective Mercer – and here is where all the statement’s the film might be making about vengeance and vigilantism finally and truly run aground. After an hour and forty-off minutes of soul-searching – despite her vigilante killings, Foster’s eyes show that the remaining shard of her previous life still falls apart when she takes action, even though the new Erica, the stranger never wavers – the battle for… let’s call it her soul… results in a completely anticlimactic series of actions that undermine the characters of both Erica and Mercer.
I’m sure the final moments of The Brave One were not meant to be a [you should only pardon the expression] cop out. Given the delicately balanced portrayal that Foster gives Erica – and the nuanced performance of Howard as Mercer, one of the genuinely good cops – the final moments are, in a way, a bigger betrayal of the characters than if they had been as bloody as the immediately preceding scenes.
Given the power and presence of Foster and Howard’s performances, it’s a shame that Jordan – and screenwriters Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor and Cynthia Mort – didn’t have the courage to attach appropriate consequences to the actions of both characters. It’s also a bit weird that the blatantly exploitational Death Sentence should go there when The Brave One doesn’t.
The Brave One is worth seeing – if only for Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard – but it certainly isn’t the film it could’ve, and maybe should’ve been.
Final Grade: C+
Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted on 09/14/07