"Three stars (R)
Ladies and gentlemen, for your viewing pleasure this weekend, we have Jodie Foster in Death Wish 2007. That an actor as respected as Foster would be doing the Charles Bronson boogie in a revenge flick isn’t all that surprising. In 2002, she was a battling mom in the thriller Panic Room and in 2005 she fought both the authorities and the bad guys in Flightplan. For the time being, at least, it appears that Foster has decided to steer clear of prestige dramas and focus on high-profile B-movies. In fact, earlier this week on The Late Show, she told David Letterman that she was especially proud of The Brave One and considered it her finest film in years.
Oh, where to start, where to start ...
The main difference between Death Wish and The Brave One is that Death Wish allowed viewers to vicariously take vengeance on thugs, thieves, rapists and killers, while The Brave One is more a study of the emotional impact experienced by Foster’s character as she becomes a vigilante. We’re supposed to be more focused on her tortured soul than on the creeps getting whacked, although at the screening I attended, a significant portion of the audience cackled and whooped every time a goon got blow away.
Fine, what the hell, it’s not like this revenge thriller is going to have anything new to say. I mean, after the Death Wish series and numerous similar movies, from Abel Ferrara’s 1981 Ms. 45 to the recent Kevin Bacon vehicle, Death Sentence, the whole violence and its effect on the individual subject has been played out. So screw social relevance, does The Brave One work as a B-movie with an A-list cast? Well, yes, as long as you turn off your brain.
The story follows Erica Bain (Foster), host of a radio program that showcases her annoying impressionistic ramblings about life in New York City. While Erica and her boyfriend David (Naveen Andrews from Lost) walk their dog in the park, they encounter some young toughs who savagely beat them while videotaping the assault. After a long stint in the hospital, Erica finds herself so crippled with fear that she purchases a gun.
From that point on, she encounters a series of violent creeps (so many coincidences!) and what you expect to happen happens. Along the way, she makes the acquaintance of Sean Mercer (Terrance Howard), a cynical detective with a good heart. There are other characters: Erica’s boss (Mary Steenburgen), Sean’s wisecracking partner (Nicky Katt), a fellow sufferer (Zoe Kravitz), a tough but tender neighbor (Carmen Ejogo), but the show revolves around Foster, with Howard providing sturdy support.
Director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) does everything in his power to keep the attention on Erica’s emotional situation, including a lot of Twilight Zone camera tilting to emphasize the otherworldliness of her new circumstances and an overhead shot of Erica running through alleys looking like a mouse in a maze. Subtle, no, but he gets the job done. Foster gives an exceptional performance, which should come as no surprise, and Howard is rock solid, as always.
The Brave One drags in the beginning, but picks up steam once Erica starts killing people. I don’t understand why so many talented artists decided to spend their time on such a tired genre, and I think the title is both bland and incorrect, but that’s only because I’m thinking and, as previously noted, to best enjoy The Brave One, it is necessary to let the film do the thinking for you.