by HELEN GEIB
The Brave One stars Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard and is directed by Neil Jordan. That’s powerhouse talent, and in The Brave One they have made a good genre film. The movie plays it safe to please its target audiences of Jodie Foster fans and revenge story genre fans and I expect it will be popular. The central performances and the filmmaking are good enough that it might have been a great film if it had been less calculated to please, and taken a few more risks.
A few perfunctory opening scenes establish Jodie Foster’s character, Erica, as a confident, self-assured New Yorker, in love and happy with her life, her career and her city. The story proper begins when Erica and her boyfriend are victims of a brutal assault, he is killed and she discovers the crime has turned her into a person defined by fear. She buys a gun. She begins to use it. The first time she kills a man she is acting in self-defense, the second from an ambiguous mixture of fear, rage and a self-destructive compulsion to learn if she really can kill and continue to live with herself. She can, she wishes desperately that she felt a revulsion against her own violence that she doesn’t feel, and she doesn’t put down the gun.
Erica’s psychological breakdown is the heart of the story and is developed through the plot, a narration by Erica, the visual aesthetic of the film and Erica’s complex friendship with Howard’s character, the detective in charge of the vigilante murder case. The film succeeds to varying degrees in these aspects. As expected from a big-budget studio film made by a director of Jordan’s caliber and experience, The Brave One is technically superior, well acted, has good pacing and looks great, evoking the dual heaven-and-hell (and especially the hellish nighttime in the wrong part of town) character of New York.
The plot is generally strong until the climax. It has some of the “too many coincidences” implausibilities inherent in the revenge genre, but it was dramatic and absorbing and remained credible up to the last few minutes. The movie built to one conclusion and then- whether because the scriptwriter wanted a surprise ending or because the script was re-written at the last minute- didn’t lay the groundwork for the alternate conclusion that is actually presented. The ending is very safe, and the starkest point of missed greatness.
The narration is spoken partly as a typical voiceover and partly through the device of Erica’s radio show, for which she wanders the city recording ambient noise to replay accompanied by her musings on New York and life. The narration is at times effective in casting New York as a character in the story and not just a setting, and in showing how Erica’s relationship with the city reflects her life and is warped by her trauma, but these more interesting aspects are under-developed and the narration ultimately is a crutch to develop the characterization.
The best part of the film is the relationship between Erica and the detective. The story has enough substance to give Foster and Howard something to work with, and they make a great deal of it. The friendship is unconventional, intriguing, and emotionally satisfying. It’s the best part of the film. I have no reservations about Foster and Howard’s performances and they are the main reason The Brave One, despite the problems in its story, is a good film.
2 1/2 stars