Starring: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Nicky Katt, Naveen Andrews, Mary Steenburgen. Rated R.
have been rampant that Neil Jordan’s The Brave One will earn Jodie Foster her first Oscar nomination
since 1994’s Nell, and it is
to understand why.
As a New York-based talk-show host whose cozy world is
shattered when a gang of thugs cracks her skull and murders her fiancé (Naveen
Andrews) during an evening stroll in Central Park, her performance is
effectively nuanced, a subtle but convincing mix of impotent terror, vengeful
rage and, ultimately, remorse. It would represent a star-making turn for an
actress with a lesser résumé; for Foster, it is merely a platform to show off
her dramatic range.
The only problem is the movie itself. There is little wrong
with The Brave One, really, save for the
fact that it bills itself as something it is not. Jordan and Foster would have
us believe that this is high-minded examination of American violence, and the
ways even a single brush with it can transform an otherwise peaceful,
law-abiding citizen into a rogue killer.
Foster makes the transition believable, and it is
to sympathize with Erica, the happy-go-lucky city-dweller who is robbed of her
security and, in desperation, buys a gun. Once she musters the courage to leave
her apartment, she finds herself immersed in a culture overrun with thieves,
murderers and rapists. Take a look around, the movie seems to be saying, and
you’ll find them – they’re everywhere, you’ll see!
In fact, Erica seems to
be going out of her way to find
them, with a little help from her unwitting accomplice, Detective Mercer
(Terrence Howard). The problem is that as much as one can empathize with her
righteous rage – and judging from the wild cheers it elicited at a recent
screening, her subsequent killing spree – it is almost impossible not to view
her as a public menace, conflicted though she may be. The Brave
One is Death Wish in
sheep’s clothing, with Foster playing Charles Bronson’s vigilante
with a touch of 21st-century sensitivity.
Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but Death Wish was not serious entertainment, and neither is The
Brave One. It is a lurid, finely crafted
thriller, entertaining to the last, but to present it as a solemn meditation on
the nature of violence is intellectually dishonest. As a tense crime drama,
invigorated by Foster’s virtuoso performance, it works. Moralists, however,
should be dismayed by its casual glorification of vigilante justice and its
suggestion that female empowerment is as simple as packing heat.
Note: Foster recently decried
the violent state of American
film, citing Sin City – a bloody
comic-book fantasy in which a young girl is abandoned and nearly raped – as
symptomatic of the problem. If Ms. Foster, who plays a terrorized mother in Panic
Room and an all-too-eager killer here,
wishes to mop the blood off theater floors, she might start by choosing her own
roles more carefully.