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Dustin Putman

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The Brave One  (2007)
2 Stars
Directed by Neil Jordan
Cast: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Nicky Katt, Naveen Andrews, Mary Steenburgen, Carmen Ejogo, Lenny Venito, Zoe Kravitz, Jane Adams, Larry Fessenden, An Nguyen, Rafael Sardina, Ivo Velon
2007 – 122 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong violence, language and some sexuality).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 11, 2007.
"The Brave One" coincidentally comes to theaters exactly two weeks after "Death Sentence," a subjectively very similar film about an average joe who turns to vigilantism after a loved one is murdered. The earlier film, starring Kevin Bacon and directed by James Wan, was treated as a tragedy with heavy action-thriller undertones. The results were emotionally raw, riveting and grisly, if a bit unclear about its stance on morality and violence. Whereas "Death Sentence" went for the jugular at every turn, "The Brave One" is more cerebral in tone—no surprise coming from director Neil Jordan (1999's "In Dreams"). Unfortunately, just because the film is slower and more morose doesn't make it superior. Save for yet another stunning performance from Jodie Foster (2006's "Inside Man") to add to her prestigious repertoire, "The Brave One" is overly convenient in its plotting from beginning to end and concludes on a note of ambiguity that lacks a satisfying payoff.

Talk radio host Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) lives a charmed New York City existence, at least in her own mind. She's got a job that she loves, a comfortable downtown apartment, and is happily engaged to handsome doctor David Kirmani (Naveen Andrews). In an instant, her life as she knows it is stolen from her. She doesn't die, but in a way faces a worse fate, narrowly surviving a senseless attack in Central Park that claims David's life. Frustrated by the lack of help she receives from the police department and stricken with a paralyzing fear for her own safety, Erica opts to purchase a handgun. When called upon to use it for the first time, shooting and killing a convenience store gunman, she is taken aback by the level of calm and the feeling of power it gives her. It is this event that sets off a chain reaction of vigilante-style murders at the hands of Erica, ultimately leading her toward the men responsible for David's death.

"The Brave One," a nonsensical title that has nothing to do with anything, is a drama that very specifically represents the paranoia and feeling of not being safe within a post-9/11 world. As much as Erica is torn apart with grief over her fiancé's death, she is equally haunted over her suddenly changed mindset of the city she has grown up in and always loved. With Manhattan now a place of dread and probable danger, Erica's only avenue of retribution for the crimes being committed around her is to return the violence in spades. As she does so, she is amazed by how easy it is to get away with the acts she has committed. With her wave of revenge murders escalating and Detective Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard) sniffing around over her shoulder, Erica's thin facade of being okay crumbles further by the holes in her life she is unable to fill.

As written by Roderick Taylor (2001's "American Outlaws"), Bruce A. Taylor and Cynthia Mort, "The Brave One" broaches some provocative topics, including the theft of one's identity in the face of a negatively life-altering experience and the gray line between cold-blooded murder and violence with a "purpose." The film does not, however, offer answers or, really, even opinions on these subjects, instead guiding the viewer down a dead-end street bereft of the character arc Erica needs.

It is certain where the story is going for most of the way—and it's a place that is frustratingly without a resolution beyond the basest superficial one—and so it is up to the "getting-there" of the narrative to raise things beyond standard-issue. Sadly, the whole of "The Brave One" is riddled with illogical plot contrivances (Erica keeps happening upon threats in her everyday life that lead her to take out a personal brand of vengeance), pat irony (Erica and David plan to get married the following day at the courthouse only seconds before they are attacked), half-formed subplots (Erica's return to the airwaves is made a big deal of before her job is pushed to the sidelines of the script), and a climax that stretches the boundaries of what can be swallowed from a motion picture that up until this point has made a point of being set in the real world.

As the lost and conflicted Erica Bain, Jodie Foster is a consummate powerhouse whose amiability in her early scenes is abruptly taken over by a pall of desperation and dead-eyed emptiness. Erica's relationship with David is missing the depth of connection for his memory to linger in the forefront of the viewer's mind throughout, but Foster captures the appropriate solemnity and pathos required for Erica's plight to make an impression. Even when the film is stumbling around, Foster is the one constant who almost makes the rest of the movie worthy of seeking out. Ultimately, though, her performance is in service of a saggy plot that refuses to ask the tough questions or take a stand any which way. As Detective Sean Mercer, who begrudgingly begins to suspect Erica might be involved in the vigilante crime wave, Terrence Howard (2007's "Pride") lends solid support in a comparatively dry role. In smaller parts, Mary Steenburgen (2006's "Inland Empire"), as discerning radio station manager Carol, and Jane Adams (2006's "Last Holiday"), as Erica's concerned, shut-out friend Nicole, do what they can with limited screen time.

What is the point of where "The Brave One" goes and where it finally leads? These are questions that director Neil Jordan is unsure of the answers to. Because of this lapse of clarity, the film comes off as a mildly shallow, fairly typical revenge flick. Heroine Erica, complex though she is in her beliefs, is left in the end with a string of violent crimes and, in this viewer's eyes, zero closure. Yes, guilty people are dead and Erica has evened the score, but to what end? Has anything really, truly been solved? This is a crucial, thought-provoking quandary that director Jordan irresponsibly neglects to consider, and it finally causes a collapse of the positive elements the film has to offer.
© 2007 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman