Warner Bros. // 2007 // 122 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // February 5th, 2008
"Then I'll be the last super-cunt you'll ever see." -- Erica
The Brave One tries hard to be a forward-thinking movie audiences should take very seriously. It is a thoughtful look at revenge crime and its place in the world, a cry out for victims who take action. An amazing cast and crew get together to take on a tale of sweet and sour vengeance. We have Academy Award Winner Jodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs) teamed up with Academy Award Nominee Terrence Howard (Crash), and they are under the direction of Academy Award Winner Neil Jordan (The Crying Game). There's lots of "Oscar Gold" floating around the set, and yet all these people decide to do is remake 1974's Death Wish with a butch lady. Oh sure it's far more meditative and emotional than the standard fare for these films, but in essence it is Jodie Foster with a gun taking out bad guys in New York City because her fiancé was killed and her dog was stolen. Warner Brothers releases the DVD with an okay transfer and a smattering of extras, and it puzzles me just who the perfect audience for this feature is. I'm thinking angry lesbians who like to pack pistols and have lost all faith in the world would love this one, or sensitive men who want Dirty Harry to have emotional pangs of socially correct guilt. The highbrow thrill is seeing Jodie Foster deliver her standard layered performance, while the lowbrow glee comes from seeing her take out bad guys in her leather coat and dyke hair cut.
Erica Bain (Foster) is a radio host of an NPR style program where she gets to talk about how much she loves New York City. And why shouldn't she adore her life in The Big Apple? Apparently, she works about 40 minutes a day, and then spends the rest of her time attending fabulous art openings and canoodling with her attractive fiancé, who wears scrubs (Naveen Andrews, Lost). One night while walking their dog in Central Park, Erica, her man, and her pooch are attacked by a vicious gang of thugs. She ends up in a coma, he ends up on a slab, and the dog is missing. Once Erica heals, she begins to find herself living in twisted fear and misplaced anger. To combat all of this, she buys a gun and finds herself stalking criminals. When she finds them she acts the part of a helpless victim; then, she blows them away. Hot on her trail is a cop (Howard) who is torn between whether to help Erica or stop her.
The heart of this movie is Foster's character and her internal struggle. She's an NPR radio type with one of those soothing voices and a placid demeanor, which we assume couldn't possibly hide darkness. Once Erica is brutally attacked, the façade slips away, and she becomes an animal. It's like a werewolf movie wherein our leading lady discovers killing makes her feel better, and she is horrified to know that is how it works. She latches on to Howard's detective because he understands exactly how she feels, and it forces him to reconcile his own impulses. This is where The Brave One works best, as a brutal, simple character portrait. It's the kind of thing Foster is famous for (Flightplan and Panic Room), and Howard seems to be able to match her scene for scene. The acting is top notch, and that's the best reason to check this one out.
Jordan films the hell out of The Brave One, giving lots of beautiful camera moves and blanched-out colors that recall Jodie's previous turn in David Fincher's Panic Room. Jordan is an odd choice to spearhead a revenge thriller, and he takes everything in a fresh direction. The only stumbles come at the start and finish, but in between is a wonderful ode to a violent, scary New York. He knows how to frame the characters, and he creates a real feeling that hits the right tone most of the time. It becomes an unusually well-done crime thriller with more artisanship than you would expect from this type of work.
Noble as everything is, from production design to acting, there are still moments when I just could not buy the story. Jodie Foster has painfully little chemistry with Naveen Andrews, and I had a hard time believing they were an ideal couple in love for the brief time they are together on screen. His death didn't feel like it made much of an impact, and Foster seems too butch to be dating him. This is one case where it is hard to separate the actress and her personal life from the character on screen. Perhaps this comes from the physical elements they have chosen to represent Erica Bain. She sports a black leather jacket and an Ellen Degeneres hair cut, and this conjures up images that betray the woman's essence. I also couldn't completely believe Foster's Dirty Harry persona when it comes out. It seemed a bit studied, and some of her lines are nearly laughable as she drifts into action-star territory. Why did they feel the need to give her snappy one-liners every time the violence rolls around? This woman should barely be able to howl, let alone come up with quips. In the last reel the finale is far too neat and easily reached after sitting through all of this psychological warfare between the two leads. As much as they've tried to dress this one up, it is still in essence a genre flick dealing with crime revenge. Some of the higher aspirations seem to betray what should be a popcorn flick at heart.
I don't think the original script was intended to be quite this highbrow. The Brave One was first conceived by a father and son writing team who probably saw this material as much lower than what Jordan and Foster struggled to raise it to. I have to applaud them for trying, and it is interesting to see how far they can take it. Yet in the end there is a conflict the film has with its script and the rest of the elements. Is there truly a need for us to understand the horrific impact of criminal violence on innocent people? It's easy to comprehend, and that is why these revenge thrillers do so well with audiences. There's not a big need to take the story to the heights they are reaching for, because we would be fine with the primal elements.
Warner Bros. gives us a standard DVD release that looks murky. Blues and greens are a little bit problematic here, and everything is a touch dark and impenetrable. Part of this is the style of the film, but little has been done to resolve the issues. Most glaring that the picture is lacking detail, and I am curious if the high-definition transfers will rectify these problems. The audio portion of the program is competent, with a nice use of surround effects when called for. Extras are light, including only a 20-minute behind the scenes featurette and about seven minutes of cut scenes that don't add up to much. We get a lot of standard talking-head views of the film, yet they do offer some interesting insights. A commentary would have been nice, but no such luck. The cover art isn't the best choice, it uses a rather poor version of the lesser of the two theatrical-release posters.
In the end, if we recall Death Wish's resolution, Bronson's character never truly avenges his wife's death. The parting shot shows him smiling like a loon at the prospect of killing some more bad guys. Jodie Foster and Neil Jordan want their vigilante in The Brave One to be more haunted and respectable by their film's conclusion. In fact, that is the whole thrust of the film, to make a thinking-person's revenge thriller. They succeed in many ways, but it's all hard to swallow. They contemplate the violence a lot, and frankly this kind of brutality doesn't need much meditation to be effective. Crimes are passion, and the filmmakers are trying to make them more cerebral. An interesting film, but one that is unnecessarily convoluted. Somehow I buy Charles Bronson more than Jodie Foster, if only because he gives in to his inner demons more easily, without all the tight-lipped angst. I found this film engaging, and I have to say the acting is extremely competent, as are the design and cinematography. But in the end? It's just as unconvincing as the over-the-top B-grade films it is trying to trump. Keep your expectations in check, and this one will be a nice diversion.
Guilty of trying too hard to be smart, The Brave One is sentenced to several viewing of Death Wish to learn how to simplify a revenge tale.
Review content copyright © 2008 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Behind the Scenes Featurette (20:00)
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site
* Jodie Foster Fan Site