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THE BRAVE ONE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews, Nicky Katt, Mary Steenburgen
Director:  Neil Jordan
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  122 Minutes
Release Date:  February 5, 2008

“Why doesn’t somebody stop me?”

Film ***1/2

Vigilante films have been around for decades, and there’s a reason for their appeal.  Whether it’s Charles Bronson in Death Wish or, to an extent, Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, these movies touch something primal in their audiences, who have come to feel that laws are more to protect criminals than victims, and who sometimes feel enough is enough and want to see someone, anyone, take back a little of the sanity.

Neil Jordan’s The Brave One is not quite by the numbers.  More than any other film of its type, it gets inside the head of a character pushed to do deeds she never thought herself capable of.  And most of all, how it makes her feel.  How it exhilarates her.  How she also hates herself for it.  It has all the thrill and suspense of a genre picture, but in a much more elevated way, because what creates it is not action, but a psychological metamorphosis.

Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain, a New York City talk show host whose world is turned upside down by a mugging.  Her fiancé is killed, and she is badly wounded.  Her calm ordered life is turned into fear and chaos, which she tries to control by acquiring a gun and learning how to use it.  Firing the weapon eventually stills her fears, but at the price of something darker.

At first, she seems to stumble into situations.  In a store, she uses the gun in a panic to save her life.  Later, she thwarts a subway robbery by pulling the trigger, while finding it curious that she could have simply stopped the crime by showing the gun instead of using it.  Hunting down and turning predators into prey becomes an obsession, and yet the violence is never over the top or the point…the point is the startling, slow, and complete transformation of Erica into someone she no longer recognizes in the mirror.

There is a good cop, Mercer (Howard), who befriends Erica while at the same time determined to get to the bottom of the vigilante killings.  In between them is society, and how they respond to Erica’s actions.  Is she a hero or a menace?  Does she exact the justice that the legal system often fails to, or is she another wrong that will never make a right?

By expanding the canvas, Neil Jordan has taken something conventional and turned it into something remarkable and thought provoking.  Foster and Howard are powerhouses, and you could pair them up in any movie and it would be worth the price of admission just to see two masters of their craft at the top of their games.  It seems rarer and rarer that Foster makes a movie these days, so when she does, it’s always something special.

The ending, which I won’t divulge, could have just as easily gone one way as another.  Was it really the ending Jordan wanted?  Or was it the ending audiences wanted?  After all, we live in a time when a man who may very well be our next president wants to give terrorists access to our court systems and full disclosure of intelligence gathered against them.  Sometimes, in the face of such insanity, we demand of our movies something a little less than reality.  Or more than reality.  Take your choice.

I’m not willing to call it a misstep.  The Brave One is a solid, intelligent, and sobering look, not at crime, not at justice, but at humanity, and of that line we all hope we never have to cross, because we have no idea what will happen once we do.  And we’re pretty sure we won’t be able to go back, either.

Video ***1/2

A lot of dark scenes drive the movie, but this anamorphic transfer from Warner is more than up to the challenge.  Detail is never lost, and there is a realistic look to the colors, which keep the experience more in the actual world than in the realm of fantasy.

Audio ***1/2

The hustle and bustle of New York make for a particularly ambient 5.1 mix.  There are always sounds coming from every direction…not always crucial to the story, but lending a great deal to the atmosphere and feel.  Dynamic range is strong and dialogue is always well-presented.

Features *1/2

There are six minutes of deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

Summary:

The Brave One makes for a singular entry in the genre of vigilante films, and not just because the protagonist is female.  No, because it delves more into the mind, heart and soul of the person who essentially becomes what she’s always feared.  A superb casting duo of Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard under the surehanded direction of Neil Jordan make this one a solid winner.

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