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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Vigilante Injustice
by John P. McCarthy

Jodie's got a gun and she's not afraid to use it in The Brave One, a hardcore vigilante thriller directed by Neil Jordan of The Crying Game fame. After Panic Room and Flightplan, who could doubt a Jodie Foster heroine of the new millennium can protect herself? But during this violent essay on revenge set in the dimly lit crannies of New York City, her character goes overboard in a manner that many, like me, will find troubling. 

Foster portrays talk-radio host, Erica Bain, whose show on the (made-up) listener-supported station WNKW features aural chronicles of Gotham inspired by her walkabouts. When a heinously brutal attack in Central Park leaves her clinging to life and her fiancé dead, among the things she loses is the sense of safety and freedom that enabled her peripatetic musings.

Only hawkish neocons and Old Testament literalists believe a killing spree is the best way to make the streets safer and get back to work. Debilitated by fear, Erica forgoes counseling or the support of friends and family and buys a gun. The bloodletting begins by accident when she shoots a homicidal man in a deli and two menacing African-Americans accost her on the subway. Then our avenging angel starts looking for the baddies, including her three Puerto Rican assailants from the park. 

She meets an NYPD homicide detective played by Terrence Howard and decides to profile him for her show. He gradually suspects her of being behind the unsolved string of murders -- and even facilitates one -- but is drawn to her as woman, victim, and vox populi. He must see her as an alluring composite of an NPR anchor, Charles Bronson and citizen activist.

To its credit, The Brave One doesn't flinch from a stark depiction of retribution and the evil that lurks in the shadows of every metropolis. It doesn't offer the expected ending. To its detriment, what it does present -- without revealing too much -- is at best amoral. From an ethical standpoint, the narrative offers no mitigating circumstances. It makes no difference that the people Erica kills are evil and deserve to die, or that she's motivated by self-defense initially. And while undeniably tense and well-crafted, the provocative film doesn't earn a pass on aesthetic grounds either.

It's not a compelling character study because Erica's transformation from alternative media maven and hopeful lover to cold-blooded killer isn't fleshed out with psychology or cinematic substance. We can't grasp enough of what she's thinking and feeling as she adds a gun to the tools-of-her-trade, alongside her microphone and tape recorder. She lapses into a near catatonic state well beyond post-traumatic stress disorder, which doesn't make for probative drama. There's nothing amiss with Foster's clenched performance, yet the void in Erica, together with a final plot twist and Howard's uncanny turn, shifts our attention to her police confidante.

While failing to elicit cathartic sympathy or compassion for its protagonist, The Brave One doesn't let you to ponder the nature of justice either. You're forced to take the movie at face value, in which case it belongs alongside the recent Kevin Bacon vehicle Death Sentence and Bronson's infamous Death Wish from 1974. There's no indication the title is meant ironically, even though Erica Bain actually conforms to an archaic definition of brave meaning "bully or assassin." In the same ugly vein, it's troubling how the movie pushes racial buttons without any justifying purpose -- a charge not deflected by having Erica's fiancé be a doctor of color (Naveen Andrews).

Where the film succeeds is in forcing you to consider whether your reactions are tainted by a double standard regarding gender and screen violence. Would the story be more acceptable if it were about a man? Having completed that check and answered no -- you must conclude that a tale of vengeance can be exciting but never satisfying absent the complexities of eloquent language or imagery. As polished as it may be on the surface, neither are present in The Brave One

(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated "R" for strong violence, language and some sexuality.)

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