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The Brave One

I am a big Jodie Foster fan, but after her last few movies (“Panic Room,” “Flightplan” and the incredibly awful “Inside Man,”) I wondered if she’d stopped caring about acting and was just paying the bills. “The Brave One” shows that she was just waiting for the right script– which is funny, because it’s not all that great a script. The plot is formulaic, the writing is often banal and annoying (especially during the radio monologues) and there are more than a few moments that strain believability past the breaking point. This is B Movie material, your typical vigilante pulp. Charles Bronson made a lot of money on this formula with 5 “Death Wish” movies.

But Foster elevates the material way past “Death Wish.” Her vigilante killings are not a thrill ride or therapy, they’re an addiction, and like all addictions, one that destroys her. It is fascinating to watch her balance fear and anger, the one caused by the other, and to watch her watch herself disintegrate. Her performance is dark, nuanced and utterly convincing.

The formula goes like this: Erica Bayne is so blissfully engaged to be married that you know something bad’s got to happen, and soon. So it does. At about the 15 minute mark she and her fiance are brutally mugged, and when she comes out of a coma, his funeral has already taken place. So she buys a gun. And starts using it. And the public loves her, and the police are baffled, and not all that sure they want to stop her anyway.

Terrance Howard plays the cop who catches on, and continues to convince me that he may be the most reliable actor in Hollywood. He never makes a wrong move, and that’s really his calling card as an actor, isn’t it? Whatever pressure he’s under, you never doubt that he’s a decent guy, and that in the end, he’ll do the right thing. Naturally he doesn’t match Foster’s intensity, but watch the way he navigates their relationship — is it a budding romance, a peculiar friendship, an interview, or a cop and a killer? All of them at once.

And then…the movie completely cops out at the end, and really does become “Death Wish 6.” Why? Why bother all the set up of the first ninety minutes to end like this? This is another ending that makes me wonder if the producers stepped in and demanded nice, happy, neat endings. It’s an insult to the intelligence of the viewer, and significantly cheapens the movie.

I suppose I should say something about fear in New York post-9/11, but I’m really the least qualified to say anything. All my life I’ve lived in small towns on the West coast, now I live in the Rocky mountains – never any place where a terrorist would crash a plane, or even mail a bomb. I’ve never been to New York, either before 9/11 or after. But this is one of the things I noticed most acutely when I went back and watched Death Wish: Charles Bronson knows who the bad guys are. That movie was made in the 70’s, when the crime rate in New York was notoriously high and, at least according to the movie, it was easy to identify the criminals. Foster’s Erica Bayne, on the other hand, comments on how New York is the “safest big city in the world,” and yet terror falls out of the sky. Bronson sets out to change his world by evening the score; Erica Bayne is swallowed by hers by participating in it violently.

Recommended

  • for fans of Jodie Foster and/or Terrence Howard
  • if you’re feeling a little like a vigilante yourself these days.

Not Recommended

  • if you’re looking for “Death Wish 6”
  • if you’re really hoping this won’t be “Death Wish 6.”
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