Directed by: Neil Jordan
Starring: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Nicky Katt, Naveen Andrews, Mary Steenburgen
Rated: R for strong violence, language and some sexuality.
Parental Notes: This is not a film for children or even most preteens. It contains brutality and fairly graphic violence and is emotionally brutal as well.
Films like “The Brave One” cause me to mull over the idea that violence is becoming too prevalent in modern entertainment. Is it good or bad that “The Brave One” presents its violence in gritty, brutal, realistic ways? Is it better to show violence and its aftermath, as this film does, or better to show it in cartoonish, over-the-top format, like most action flicks do? That’s a philosophical question best left to full-on film critics rather than your humble film reviewer. What I can tell you is this: “The Brave One” is violent, wrenching, and emotionally resonant. It’s not always easy to watch, but it’s hard to tear yourself away from.
Erica Bain (Jodie Foster, “Inside Man”) has a wonderful life: a fiance she adores, a public radio job she loves, even a friendly dog. All three are torn away to varying degrees in a matter of minutes. While out walking, she and her fiance are grievously beaten by a trio of thugs who steal their dog. As is befitting a scene which is the catalyst for the rest of the film’s events, the assault is brutal. Director Neil Jordan (“Breakfast on Pluto”) wisely leaves the worst of the beating to our imaginations, assisted by gruesome sound effects and blurry images from the camcorder one of the thugs uses to record their deeds. The horror is lengthened by the following hospital sequence, as images of the EMS technicians removing Erica’s clothes and revealing her injuries are inter-cut with snippets of Erica and her fiance making love.
As she heals from her extensive physical injuries, Erica finds she has become someone else. She has trouble leaving her apartment, even to go to the police station and check on her case. She ignores phone calls from her friends and concern from her curmudgeonly neighbor. Her boss tries to get her to take more time off from work, but she wants to work, to keep living. Her radio show morphs from a series of quiet stories about the city into a near-confessional about the nature of fear.
Erica soon buys a gun, and in short order turns into a vigilante. She starts out by taking the opportunities city life presents — a gunman in a convenience store, thugs on the subway — but soon she is hunting her prey actively, always with her sights set on the trio of thugs who started it all. Foster portrays the transformation brilliantly, handling both Erica’s strength and her grief and vulnerability with equal aplomb. Foster can show more emotion with a quiet face than most actresses can with well-written dialog.
The film’s biggest flaw is the ending, which leaves holes and unexplained character changes hanging in the air. It does wrap up Erica’s story neatly, but perhaps that’s the problem — it wraps things up a little too neatly for a film which is otherwise focused on the difficult and realistic effects of violence and crime. Perhaps I am expecting too much from a film about revenge, but if “Highlander: The Series” can manage to show vengeance as a not-entirely-good thing, then I think an Oscar-winning-actress’ vehicle could too.