Friday, September 14, 2007

The Brave One


Jodie’s Got a Gun

Jodie Foster has got to be one of the most careful of actresses. Her movies tend to be several years apart, and they feature interesting premises, with a strong leading role for her. The problem is that, aside from her, they tend to be pretty average, as evidenced by Panic Room (2002), and Flightplan (2005). Inside Man (2006) was her best movie of late, but she only had a bit part in that one. Now comes The Brave One, a Death Wish (1974) remake that almost works, but shortchanges the viewer with a uncharacteristic subplot and unbelievable ending. A near miss.

Radio personality Erica Bain (Foster) is riding a crest of elation. While walking with her fiance (Naveen Andrews) in Central Park, the two are accosted by a group of thugs, who end up beating them both severely. She recovers slowly, then buys a handgun to try to feel safer. After using it to defend herself, she begins to change into someone who courts danger in order to exact revenge on those she feels deserve it. Police detective Mercer (Terrence Howard) is hot on the trail of this vigilante, and begins to befriend and suspect Erica. Will his bond with her prevent him from the inevitable arrest?

The center of this film is, of course, Jodie Foster, and she is always good. Her Erica is a woman who gets knocked down from an idealistic pedestal and has to force herself to even walk outside. She is shattered by her experience, and illegally buys a gun because she feels she won’t survive past the thirty day wait for a legal one. I really liked the scene where she tries to read her copy on the air, freezes, then embarks on a tangent of new awareness. She sells it, and we buy.

Neil Jordan (Breakfast on Pluto) is a strong director, and I liked what he did with a lot of this material. When Erica tries to leave her apartment, the camera tilts and dips and makes us uneasy. His use of slow motion is excellent (especially on select close ups of a reacting Foster), and shows restraint when it is really needed. I think he practices too much restraint is in the park attack (which sets her motivations for the whole movie), cutting to a video camera one of the thugs is using. It’s lessens the detail of what’s happening, when he should be rubbing our face in it.

Two glaring problems really derail The Brave One. One is a subplot that concerns a criminal that Mercer has been trying to arrest for three years. It takes too much time away from Erica, then leads her to do something completely out of character. It’s a waste of film and should have been cut. The second is the baffling way Mercer acts at the end, almost causing me to yell “What!?” at the screen. It makes no sense, would have my cop brother-in-laws enraged, and just doesn’t fit what has gone before.

It’s a close call, but The Brave One misfires. Foster and cast are good and Jordan guides things well, but a misconstrued plot development and lame ending really hurt things. It could have and should have been a tighter, tauter, more compelling film. Instead, we get this one.

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