Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Mary Steenburgen, Jane Adams, Nicky Katt, Naveen Andrews, Luis Da Silva Jr., Blaze Foster, Rafael Sardina
Written by: Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor, Cynthia Mort
Directed by: Neil Jordan
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language and some sexuality
Running Time: 119
Date: 09/06/2007

The Brave One (2007)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Lady Vengeance

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's an American fantasy that if one experiences something really terrible, say a direct attack upon one's person and/or one's family, then one would come to discover their inner Rambo. And hence the movies, doing what movies do best, turn the fantasy into celluloid. The prime example of this genre is of course Michael Winner's Death Wish (1974), but also Abel Ferrara's brutal, near-perfect Ms. 45 (1981) and James Wan's current Death Sentence. But since the fantasy is just that -- a fantasy -- it was appropriately depicted in all three films as trashy, low-level escapism.

Now we have something different, a very serious exploration of the same subject by acclaimed director Neil Jordan and double Oscar-winner Jodie Foster. Both times Foster won by making films similar to this one: high-class updates of low-class themes, the rape drama The Accused (directed, incidentally, by a veteran "B" movie maker, Jonathan Kaplan), and the serial killer film The Silence of the Lambs. Once again she's victimized as she walks, blissfully happy, through Central Park with her perfect dog and her perfect fiancé David Kirmani (Naveen Andrews). A gang of thugs appears at the dark end of a tunnel, steals the dog and beats both lovers senseless. Erica Bain (Foster) wakes up in the hospital, but her husband-to-be is gone.

Erica's experience makes it difficult to continue her day job, as an NPR-type radio DJ, reading flowery stories about living in New York City. So she spends her time thinking and waiting. Typically, the cops are useless. Jordan illustrates this in a clever scene in which a pencil-pushing cop tells Erica he understands how difficult her situation is; could she please take a seat and that someone will be down to help her. Some time later, the same cop uses the exact same, apparently memorized, phrase on another citizen. With that Erica leaves, buys a gun and begins to exact her own revenge. Lucky for her, wherever she goes, violence rears its ugly head and she is able to use her new weapon to punish it. (The horror film director Larry Fessenden, of Wendigo fame, plays one of her victims, a volatile thug in a corner store.)

At the same time Erica meets detective Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard), who is coincidentally working on the case of the mysterious vigilante killer. She interviews him for her show, and he becomes fascinated by her. Mercer is an acceptable plot contrivance, but Erica's random encounters with evil are just a bit too much to swallow. Despite that, the highly skilled Jordan, especially with low-down material like this, The Good Thief and The Butcher Boy, relies on two very strong performances and their interesting chemistry, and a feel for the big city. He presents the material with intelligence.

Unfortunately, intelligence is not what this movie needs. Revenge is a seductive subject, but it's one that comes from the gut; each human being has the option to decide to overcome it, or to succumb to it. Since Erica succumbs, we needed a movie that goes with her. Ferrara's Ms. 45, about a woman who is raped twice in one day and vows revenge on all men, flows with a particularly intoxicating kind of abandon. That movie is willing to go down a very bad road. Jordan's movie is not. And certainly it needs a better title than The Brave One. In Erica's case, bravery has nothing to do with it; she's taken the easy road. In Jordan's case, more bravery was required. The Brave One

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