The Brave One

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Someday Jodie Foster will reward us by taking a role that's worthy of her immense talent. But until then we'll make do with yet another of her noble efforts to make enlightening mainstream studio productions. The Brave One has the pedigree, budget and buzz-worthy patina of quality to ensure trophy talk, but it lacks a rationale to justify its bizarre metaphorical excesses.

Foster stars as Erica Bain, an Ira Glass-style monologist who engages her public radio listeners with textured audio love letters to NYC, in all its messy, vibrant complexity. Sadly, Bain discovers a substrata of ugliness beneath the city's lovely clutter when she and her fiance (Naveen Andrews of Lost) are brutally assaulted during a late-night Central Park stroll. She survives, he doesn't.

Soon her grief, shame and anger metastasize into something uncontrollably sinister. She buys a black market gun, first out of fear and then a sense of revenge, justice, or something else. She starts patrolling the streets like a sleek, urbane angel of vengeance.

Bain doesn't have to go far for trouble — there's an increasingly implausible series of lethal encounters with thugs, bullies and crooks, all begging for a bullet. Terrence Howard plays Commissioner Gordon to Foster's Batgirl, a perceptive and compassionate cop who knows all these fresh body bags can't be coincidental, but isn't entirely upset about the notion of a freelance crime fighter. Their relationship doesn't play like you'd expect, nor does the movie, which continues to undermine thriller expectations, while contriving strained excuses to reward us with outbursts of violence.

Just what's going on here?

Director Neil Jordan is too skilled, and the actors are too good for this to be dismissed as "sweep the streets" exploitation, but even in meditation it continues to evoke the bad old days of  '70s Chuck Bronson. While Death Wish was fantasy, its dangerous cityscape at least partially resembled the rotting urban centers of the day and gave voice to frustrated confusion of the times. Modern life is no less paranoid, but it's hard to tell which way the wind blows, as this movie's vision of scary Manhattan will be unrecognizable to current visitors of the Giuliani-sanitized town. The city that spoke of risk is gone, replaced by a perpetual post-9/11 anxiety, and the Dublin-bred director doesn't want to face that beast head on. Perhaps it's a Euro's take on America, one that's lost its mind and gone savage.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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