- Neil Jordan
- Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews, Nicky Katt, Zoë Kravitz, Mary Steenburgen
- 119 min.
- Release Date
A couple weeks back, Death Sentence addressed the subject of vigilantism by glorifying the violent energy of taking law into your own hands. Kevin Bacon’s character was a father whose son is murdered by a gang; he exacts his unrelenting, gun-wielding revenge on the killers and confronts the audience with cathartic brutality. Neil Jordan’s new movie The Brave One offers an alternative philosophy, suggesting, for most of the movie anyway, that “justice” is bittersweet since most humans have a conscience.
Jodie Foster plays AM talk radio host Erica Bain, whose show consists of meditative reflections on her ideal view of New York City. She captures city sounds with her portable recorder, such as the roar of passing subway cars and the deafening resonance of feet walking on pavement, and then she uses them to echo her fascination with the city. Her ideologies about New York are crushed when she and her fiancé David (Lost star Naveen Andrews) are jumped while walking their dog. David is killed. Erica remains in a coma for three weeks. When she wakes, she finds her former life has vanished. David’s funeral has come and gone. More than that, she feels different. The city is a place she now fears. Leaving her apartment building is even difficult. And since the cops are no help in finding David’s killers, Erica resolves to take matters into her own hands and buys an unregistered gun for self-protection. She subsequently uses that gun without hesitation, blowing away a convenience store robber when she just-so-happens to be there; she also takes out two thief-rapists on a subway, and later a pimp-kidnapper.
At first, one wonders how Erica runs into so many criminals she can exact her vigilante justice onto. I recommend you ignore the violence, which initially remains a key piece of this character study. Ignore the legal logic too, since most of it is off, even by Hollywood standards. Focus on Jodie Foster’s performance, which is another great one in a long line of strong performances from her. As Erica’s actions are not committed without remorse, all at once Foster can be broken, invigorated, empty, and recharged by her behavior. We’ve often seen vigilantes working from revenge-lust in fiction, most notably Batman and The Punisher; perhaps if Erica had read more comics when she was a child, she would know that the hole left in her by David’s death would never be filled.
New York newspapers read of a vigilante doing the police’s job, but Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard) believes in the legal system. He hunts for what he assumes is a man with a gun—though certainly not Charles Bronson. Mercer, who has listened to Bain’s radio program, keeps on her about her fiancé’s case, helping her along in the recovery process. We realize we’re watching this film primarily for the actors, as Foster and Howard share dialogue that cleverly dances around whether or not he’s onto her. Not-so clever is Mercer’s police work, which may be some of the worst I’ve ever seen in a movie. At one point he’s on the phone with Erica just before she kills an untouchable (by the law) crime lord; before hanging up, he hears an elevator ding. Later, at the crime scene, he hears that same ding. He resolves that Erica must be the vigilante, because no other elevator could have a ding like that. It’s a forced plot mechanism, one so silly it takes us out of the movie, if only for a few moment. Many plot devices such as this feel contrived, but behind them are strong actors that make it somewhat tolerable.
Jordan, director of The Crying Game, Mona Lisa, and Interview with the Vampire, handles the material with appropriate gravity, giving his characters his oft-used interiority. His camera follows Erica fluidly on her walks through the city, making them eerie and somehow intense to watch. Despite the correct weight attached to the subject by its director throughout, the material sells out in the third act. And this might read as insensitive, but I was pleased to see a movie dare to depict New York City as anything less than a shining icon of American unity. Since 9/11, New York has congealed in the media as the capitol of America. What happened to the violent and disturbing underbelly shown to us in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets or Taxi Driver? You can’t tell me New York now exists in crime-free harmony. The truth about all cities is that they can be violent, scary places where it’s unsafe to walk alone at night. It doesn’t matter if patriotism flows through the streets, there will always be street crazies, ganglands, and scum.
The Brave One tears down the idol we’ve built New York up to be, or at the very least acknowledges that crime is inherent to city life. At its heart, the film proposes we look critically at cities, and more importantly vigilantes. I suppose there’s a poorly suggested allegory to the Iraq conflict, pairing Erica with America as the hero who goes out and does what needs to be done. And for a while there, I thought the movie had more nerve than to justify it. Certainly, her character wanted to stop, even felt vigilantism was a disease-like compulsion. But rather than teach us a lesson in morality, the film validates her behavior in an ending that goes against what the film previously told us about its characters.