Brave One, The

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 09/14/07 14:00:00

"The Bain Of Our Existence"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

If someone you loved was taken from you by someone whose own line between life and death was based on sheer impulse and a propulsion to violence, would you think twice about wanting to see them suffer the same fate? Maybe even care to carry out the sentence yourself? An injection, a switch, a trigger, no matter. The nature of revenge is more than just something the movies invented. It’s a natural human impulse. We can control the action if we try, but rarely the feeling. A compelling storyline anyway you carve it up and the reason it’s thrived for so long is because the moral quandary behind it will always be debated in both the social and legal attitudes towards it. Neil Jordan seems like just the director to mount a brainy, feminist angle on the Death Wish syndrome, but for all its aspirations to plunge into moral decrepitude it winds up just as, if not more, simplistic than the thought of Bronson brandishing a firearm.

Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain, who on first sight reminds us of John Travolta in Blow Out, recording the sounds of the city – although not for a movie, but one of those NPR-ish radio shows where its host talks and talks and talks about what’s wrong with those listening to her. Her only happiness appears to be with her doctor fiance, David (Naveen Andrews), and planning their wedding, a happiness that appears to blind everything they know about walking through the empty portions of Central Park at night. In a practically unprovoked attack, the pair are brutalized by a thug trifecta leaving Erica beaten beyond belief and David dead.

After healed enough to leave no visible scars, but internal ones to boot, Erica musters up the courage to leave her apartment again and seeks protection. When those pesky gun laws prevent her from buying one immediately, conveniently an off-the-books seller hearing her plight offers her a little pop gun for a price, one that comes in handy when Erica is again witness to a shocking bit of domestic violence in a convenience store. Having killed the perp just west of actual self-defense and leaving the scene, we’re reintroduced to Detective Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard) who briefly saw the battered Erica in the hospital, and determines the shooting was the result of an amateur. Erica is going to get better though, taking down threatening harrassers and not wasting a bullet doing it, as she comes to know Mercer hoping to understand what keeps him ticking on the side of laws that seem to hamstring the cops more than the criminals.

Vigilantism can be debated any which way in as much as capital punishment occasionally puts the wrong man on death row. Eliminating the question of “deserve”, which in the reimagined Eastwood world has “got nothing to do with it”, Erica’s targets come with no grey areas, leaving only extreme pacifists to debate the degree of their punishment. Cops in stories like these never come off well, usually represented through buffoonery and lackadasical tactics that bring their attention to the more high-profile adjudicator making them look bad than the more widespread scum whose numbers are decreasing. Howard’s cop is given the struggle of putting away a notorious criminal trafficker whom is obviously guilty yet able to hide through a justice system which is viewed more as lazy than the complexity of eliminating reasonable doubt. And yet there’s nothing complex about Howard’s quandaries or the conclusions he arrives at in the overtly squint-worthy final act.

Much is already being made about the role reversal of the protagonist as if Lady Vengeance, Kill Bill, Sudden Impact and countless other B-pictures didn’t already exist. No, this is a much bigger deal because it stars the choosy Jodie Foster, directed by well-respected Neil Jordan and is supposed to be about the issue of violence instead of its bloodlustful titillation. More butched up than ever before, Foster brings with her the baggage of past roles such as the damaged victim of random violence in The Accused and as one saved by vigilante justice in Taxi Driver and her performance is like holding up a mirror to her Oscar-winning turn and as a grown-up version of her teenage prostitute (which she’s mistaken for during one encounter) who learned a few more valuable tricks from Travis Bickle. Only this time she doesn’t have Paul Schrader getting deep within the underbelly of a city going to rot. She’s saddled with Roderick Taylor & Bruce A. Taylor (whose credits include such probing moral inquisitions as The Star Chamber, The Equalizer and Witchblade) and Cynthia Mort (who cut her teeth as a sitcom writer on Roseanne and Will & Grace). Their screenplays levels out between episodic TV and bad sitcom material, especially with Nicky Katt’s wisecracking partner, who has some very funny lines, but clearly belongs in a film where an audience is supposed to be wrapped up in the bloodshed instead of questioning it.

Liable to be questioned more is that aforementioned finale that is beyond just the ramifications of having your cake and eating it too. Instead of something a little more profound that we’d hope to hear from the mind of an NPR pontificator, the words that will be ringing inside your head upon leaving the theater are: “if you’re going to kill someone, make sure it’s legal.” That’s cutting right through the heart of the argument, isn’t it? As a nation obsessed with firearms and all their Freudian glory, such advice has never made getting off easier. That pretty much excuses anyone with a clean record patient enough to wait thirty days, not to mention cops with itchy trigger fingers, capital punishment advocates and those under the guise of a government-declared war. Thank you movie for making it all so simple for us. I can’t wait to go out and bust a cap on anyone who tries to sell this movie to me as anymore profound than Curly reciprocating after Moe pokes him in the eye.

Not only do I respond to a good revenge movie, but I’m a proponent of the tactic as long as everyone plays fair enough to end the game once justice has been served. Films as good as Steven Spielberg’s Munich, Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven or even the overlooked Kevin Reynolds west coast retaliation between teacher and students, 187, have shown that the cycle of violence stirred by independent bullet deliverers doesn’t end unless you’re willing to erase every friend, every family member and every law enforcement agent who doesn’t approve. The Brave One has a more insulated randomness to it that would have made more thinkpoints if it didn’t move towards snuffing out those who put Erica on this path to begin with. If Foster had worked as a one-woman show without the interference of limited subplots, we may have had a startling character study and a riveting thriller. Instead, we’re left with a film whose bravest attribute is reprising a Sarah MacLachlan song to ensure women that everything will be all right once they rid themselves of all the scumbags in their life.

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