The Brave One is alarmingly misguided; a film that wants so bad to be important and to have something to say. What is this supposed to be? A revenge drama? A satire on the films that precede it (i.e. Death Wish)? A black comedy? The screenwriters (all three of them) never get it figured out and what we’re ultimately stuck with are a few good performances in a stale genre picture. The talent on hand here certainly calls for a better result.
Erica Bain (Foster) seems to have it made. She’s the host of a talk radio show and loves her job, she’s engaged to the love of her life, David (Andrews), and she had a nice pad square in the middle of New York City. One night Erica and David, along with their dog, take a stroll through Central Park to discuss wedding plans. The dog disappears while chasing a ball, and soon the two find themselves in a horrific situation: the unsavory characters who found the dog are demanding a reward – and they’re armed. Things quickly spiral out of control, and Erica and David are beaten mercilessly while one of the thugs records the whole thing on his phone.
Erica wakes up in a hospital bed only to soon find out that David was killed. Within weeks she has made a recovery and tries to lead a normal life. Her perceptions have changed, however. She can’t sleep, she never feels safe in the place she once felt so secure. Her paranoia drives her to illegally purchase a gun, and before long she literally becomes a magnet for every violent naer-do-well in New York City. Vigilante justice becomes her calling.
It is at this time that The Brave One completely derails. Instead of further pursuing what it’s truly like to lose someone to such staggering circumstances, the film opts to take the easy route and deliver shallow, audience-pleasing violence. That’s made apparent when, after every killing, a wisecracking cop (Katt) is brought on to make snarky remarks about the deceased and the manner in which they’re dispatched. Countering that is Detective Mercer (Howard), who is determined to crack the case and bring the vigilante to light.
The director here is Neil Jordan, who isn’t exempt from bad filmmaking (ever seen In Dreams?) While the atmosphere is excellent, the pacing is sluggish and by the final act everything has gone completely haywire. Jordan does have one humdinger of a shot, and it’s in the final moments: a seamless overhead shot of Erica escaping a building. What he does get from his actors are several very good performances. Jodie Foster maximizes the potential of the character and has us caring, even when the screenwriters muck everything up. Her last several features (Flightplan, Panic Room) all seemed routine on paper, but she always brings depth to even the most standard of characters. Terrence Howard is similarly impressive is a rather thankless role, but he does hit the right notes.
By the time the final reel clicks into place Erica has essentially become a superhero, forced to utter lines such as “who’s the bitch now?” as she guns down a baddie in the back. There’s very little insight; just unimaginative violence tailor-made for the best reactionary effect. In other words, there’s nothing new to see here. The Brave One is glossy trash masquerading as a meaningful and important drama, and that’s the biggest shame of all.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 119 Minutes
Rating: R for strong violence, language and some sexuality.
Theatrical Release: September 14, 2007
Directed by: Neil Jordan
Written by: Roderick Taylor & Bruce A. Taylor & Cynthia Mort.
Cast: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Nicky Katt, Naveen Andrews, Mary Steenburgen, Ene Oloja