Brave One, The (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The usual function of the "revenge flick" is to allow the viewer to vicariously experience the brutal pleasure of executing that "dish best served cold." It's a basic case of good versus evil, with the former striking back against the latter. These films are typically not intellectual; they are visceral and work on a base level. Countless examples can be found in Hollywood but perhaps the most infamous is Death Wish. The 1974 Charles Bronson movie became the template for revenge flicks to follow. Leave it to Neil Jordan to turn the genre on its ear.

The Brave One is a revenge flick, but it's an uncommon one. Although it is bloody and at times brutal, it doesn't revel in the violence. There's more to the movie than initially meets the eye for an eye. This is about the psychology of revenge and whether a person who takes a stance as a vigilante has crossed over an ambiguous moral line. Few would argue the statement that there's a difference between law and justice, but where do the two diverge? And what price of conscience and sanity is paid when a person decides they must act because the law has failed them? The Brave One becomes not about the act of revenge but the consequences of it. The difference might seem subtle but, in the way it is played out, it's profound.

Erica (Jodie Foster) is a forty-something New York City talk show radio personality who is rapidly approaching the happiest day in her life: the day she will wed David (Naveen Andrews), her loving partner and companion. Those hopes are shattered one night when the two are attacked and brutally beaten. David dies; Erica survives, at least physically. Emotionally, she's a hollow shell. She spends three weeks in the hospital recovering, then it takes time before she gathers the courage to venture outside of her apartment. One of her fist acts is to buy a gun - both for protection and revenge. It doesn't take long before she uses it, first once then a second time. The police, led by Detectives Mercer (Terrence Howard) and Vitale (Nicky Katt) realize they have a vigilante on the loose, but they don't come close to understanding what they're dealing with.

The role of Erica might have been intended for Nicole Kidman, but Foster makes it her own. After watching this performance, it's difficult to see anyone else in the part. Playing Erica requires the actress to walk a tightrope between sanity and insanity, between fear and courage, between horror and fury. Part of Erica wants to lash out, but the other part is appalled by the way in which she is doing it. On more than one occasion, she cannot decide whether what she is doing is right or wrong. She voices arguments for both sides. Foster's acting is The Brave One's single most unassailable asset. Terrence Howard is solid and steady, but his purpose is purely supporting.

The Brave One doesn't try to provide facile answers to complex quandries. It permits us to explore them by forcing the characters to confront them. The acts of revenge and vigilantism are filmed with cold, clinical detachment; they are not presented in a way intended to whip the audience into an orgiastic frenzy of violent wish fulfillment. Instead, they offer a clear-eyed, clear-headed perspective of what has happened. Acts that might cause cheers and applause in a more exploitative motion picture result here in an introspective reaction. Jordan is not condemning vigilantism - in fact, one can make a case that the film is a stinging rebuke of law enforcement ineffectiveness - but he wants us to reflect upon the consequences and collateral damage. For Erica, each shot that she fires represents the sacrifice of a piece of her soul. But she considers herself to be a different (and inferior) person than who she was before the attack. She is now a stranger to herself and does not believe she will ever find the path back. The film's last act provides a note of hopefulness as well as one of closure.

The Brave One is technically a thriller. There is tension and uncertainty, and an unconventional cat-and-mouse game plays out between Erica and Mercer. There's a connection between them but when they face each other on the benighted streets of New York, they are on opposite sides of that uncertain demarcation between law and justice. The Brave One is a smart and thought-provoking motion picture that re-examines a genre without violating its conventions. Not since The Crying Game has Jordan crafted as compelling a motion picture.

Brave One, The (United States, 2007)

Run Time: 2:02
U.S. Release Date: 2007-09-14
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1