Directed by Neil Jordan
Produced by Susan Downey and Joel Silver
Written by Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor and Cynthia Mort
Maybe because she’s been around for so long we tend to take Jodie Foster for granted and forget just how terrific an actress she is. I remember first seeing her in the psychological thriller “The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane” way the hell back in 1975. And in recent years I’ve tremendously enjoyed her in “Maverick” “Contact” “Anna And The King” “Flightplan” “Inside Man” and of course, “The Silence of The Lambs”. She’s one of the few child actresses who successfully made the transition to adult stardom. She enjoys great critical and financial acclaim and it’s sort of amusing to me when I read professional critic reviews of movies she’s done such as “Flightplan” “Panic Room” and “Silence Of The Lambs” all of which are actually Grade B potboilers in art house movie drag as is THE BRAVE ONE.
Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) has a life that appears to be perfect. She’s the host of a highly popular radio talk show and she’s engaged to be married to a drop-dead handsome doctor (Naveen Andrews). That life comes to a tragic and brutal end one night. While walking their dog, Erica and her boyfriend are attacked in Central Park.
Erica is beaten so badly that she’s in a coma for three weeks while her boyfriend dies on the operating table. Erica recovers and tries to put her life back together. But she knows she’s not the same person she was before that night. In a very real sense she died as well and she struggles to deal with her traumatized emotions and find a way to re-integrate her shattered psyche.
Erica grows increasingly frustrated with the lack of police progress in finding her boyfriend’s killers and tries to buy a gun. Driven into a fit of anger because she refuses to wait the required 30 days, she purchases one illegally and goes out at night, deliberately setting herself up as a victim and before you can say ‘Charles Bronson’ New York’s crime rate drops sharply as there’s dead bodies of would be rapists, stick-up guys and muggers littering the streets.
Complicating the situation even more is Erica’s relationship with Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard) who is assigned to investigate the vigilante slayings. At first, Erica manipulates Mercer because he’s a fan of her show and she plays upon that to get close to him and find out how far along he is in his investigation. But as they grow closer and more trusting, Erica discovers a true respect and even admiration for both the cop and the man. At the same time, small things Mercer notices start to add up and he starts to have a horrible suspicion that his newfound friend may be the vigilante killer. But Erica can’t stop her nightly activities, especially when due to a really bizarre twist, she discovers the identity of one of the men who killed her boyfriend and if she can find one then she can damn well can find the others…
When I saw trailers for this movie I was convinced this was a remake of the classic 1974 “Death Wish” starring Charles Bronson and directed by Michael Winner. It’s a film that after all this time probably still is the definitive thriller advocating vigilantism as a legitimate response to the problem of urban crime. And after seeing THE BRAVE ONE I really think there’s enough similarity to the earlier film that it can legitimately be considered a semi-remake. But it’s the way that the movie is acted and filmed that elevates it. I mean, after “Death Wish” there were plenty of movies produced back in the 70’s and 80’s with the same revenge plot but those were filmed with a lot less pretension than THE BRAVE ONE is. It’s a movie that works hard at trying to be a serious, mature study of a how a woman deals with a life-shattering trauma. The direction is measured and even because the movie is determined to be taken seriously. As a result the tension is dialed way down until the last fifteen minutes. In fact, if the rest of THE BRAVE ONE had been as exciting and as suspenseful as the last fifteen minutes we’d have really had something here. As if is, we end up with a movie that tries to be both a character study and a urban thriller and really doesn’t know which one it wants to be. The material of THE BRAVE ONE is solid pulp/grindhouse exploitation but the director and the actors play it as if they’re all going for next year’s Oscar.
Now, that’s necessarily isn’t a bad thing. Hey, it worked for “Silence Of The Lambs” which has similar B-movie elements that was elevated by the talent of the director, actors and crew to winning five Academy Awards (and I firmly believe that Jonathan Demme included Roger Corman in the movie as a sly nod to the exploitation roots of that movie) but I don’t think that THE BRAVE ONE is going to pull the same trick. It takes itself way too seriously and spends way too much time trying to be deep and meaningful when what it needed was more thriller elements and more cat-and-mouse between Erica and Mercer.
That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable. It’s worth going to see just for the performances of Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard, both of who are stunningly good. One of my favorite underrated actors, Nicky Katt is here as Howard’s wisecracking sidekick who brings some much needed humor to the movie. Mary Steenburgen plays Erica’s boss and she does her usual solid supporting role.
So should you see THE BRAVE ONE? Sure. Especially if you’re a fan of Jodie Foster and/or Terrence Howard. It’s a well made psychological revenge thriller and on that level it’s worth your time. Enjoy.