Brave One, The (2007): Neil Jordan Vigilante Film Starring Jodie Foster

Toronto Film Fest 2007 (Special Presentations)–Two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster (“The Silence of the Lambs,” “The Accused”) is quietly but rapidly becoming Hollywood’s most bankable and reliable action star, following the success of such star vehicles, “Panic Room” and “Flightplan,” and “Inside Man,” which was more of an ensemble piece, headed by Denzel Washington, with Foster in a major role.

It is interesting to speculate why major female stars like Sigourney Weaver, who is older than Foster,┬áhave not become viable action stars, especially after the success of the “Alien”┬áseries, beginning 1979.
Most recently, Angelina Jolie has tried in the “Lara Croft” pictures, but they were awful and deservedly failed, artistically and commercially (though it was not her fault).

As she showed in “Domino,” also a bad picture, the beautiful and diverse British Keira Knightley has the chops and other requisites to become a Hollywood action star, and time will tell.

At the moment, though, it’s Jodie Foster who, for one reason or another, ceased to make art and indie films, or to direct her own work. As directed by Neil Jordan, “The Brave One” is a shrewdly made, highly entertaining vigilante movie, flaunting Foster’s multi-talents in a bravura performance, compensating for the shortcomings of a film that can’t decide if it’s a modern version of Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (starring the young Foster as a teenage prostitute), Charles Bronson films series “Death Wish,” or a more provocative chronicle of crime and violence issues in New York City in the post 9/11 era.

End result is a well-crafted picture that might appeal to several demographic groups, including Foster’s fan base, action aficionados, Jordan’s art crowd. However, mature audiences expecting a provocative, relevant expose likely will be disappointed since the movie raises more questions than it can possibly tackle, let alone answer, in this taut but contrived narrative, credited to Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor, and Cynthia Mort,

Foster plays the bright and beautiful Erica Bain, a career woman who loves New York and shares her love on the radio as host of the Street Walk show. At night, she goes home to her loving fianc, David Kirmani (Naveen Andrews), and spends quality time with him.

However, this status quo quickly changes, and everything that Erica loves switches dramatically one terrible night, when she and David are ambushed in a vicious attack that takes David’s life dead and leaves Erica wounded.

While Erica’s body heals, deeper wounds remain, specifically the devastation of losing David and new, suffocating and debilitating fears, haunting Erica’s every move–literally.

We quickly get the impression that the city streets Erica had once cherished, and places that were warmly familiar, now feel creepy and threatening. When Erica’s fears become too much to bear, she makes a fateful decision to arm herself and gets a gun. Initially, the gun becomes a way to protect herself-or so she tells and/or deludes herself.

The first time Erica shoots someone, it’s in self-defense-the logic of kill or be killed. The second time is also borderline self-defense, though there’s the possibility that she might have made a conscious choice.

The film’s central provocative dilemma, which placing us the viewers in Erica’s position, is: How much of Erica’s decisions are motivated by rational considerations, and how much of her actions are vendetta, revenge for revenge’s sake, satisfying some primal instincts

The tale gets richer, when stories of an anonymous vigilante spread all over the city, and NYPD detective Sean Mercer (played by Oscar nominee Terrence Howard, of “Hustle & Flow” and “Crash” fame) becomes determined to track down the killer. As Mercer pieces together the clues, the evidence begins to point in the direction of a certain woman.

Both Foster and Jordan are intelligent filmmakers, and you do believe them when they describe their film as a tale about right and wrong, crime and justice, the fine line between these issues, the lines that society allows us to cross, and those that some individuals choose to cross, while knowing that they violate the laws.

“The Brave One,” like all the vigilante movies of the 1970s, throws law officers and detectives like Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry,” and innocent citizens like Bronson’s architect in “Death Wish” out of control, into a situation of crisis that puts to test their very belief systems, the necessity under certain, specifiable circumstance to take the law into your own hands.

As noted, the film is more effective in posing uneasy moral questions than in dealing with them seriously. Ultimately, “Brave One” is predicated on the assumption that, when certain individuals are wronged, they react to the situation of injustice in a rather primitive, brutal way, violating basic tenets of a civilized, legally-oriented society.

The movie gives the impression of exploiting both the horrific and the fascinating dimensions of its morally questionable areas, turning some aspects of the saga into a hard-edged, exploitational actioner that thrives on manipulating viewers’ basic instincts.

The film’s twist–and the fact that it’s still a twist is alarming–is that the vigilante is a woman, and a bright and educated one. Reactions to the central character would depend on the viewers’ individual values of what they consider survival and justice, and whether or not society’s formal agencies assigned to deal with crime are capable and efficient of doing so.

The original screenplay was penned by a father and son writing team, Roderick and Bruce Taylor, who recognized that, with a woman in the central role, they needed a female writer to stress the female voice, thus adding scribe Cynthia Mort to their team.

Despite my reservations about the logic of the narrative, I acknowledge the pleasure of watching the movie, in large part due to Jordan’s taut direction and the technical polish in all departments. Jordan has not made a good or commercial movie for a while, and hopefully the box-success of “The Brave One” would enable him to get finance and go back to his more personal films, like “Butcher Boy.”

The behind-the-scenes creative team includes Oscar-winning cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (“A River Runs Through It”), marking his fourth collaboration with Neil Jordan, production designer Kristi Zea (“The Departed”), Jordan’s longtime editor Tony Lawson (“Michael Collins,” “End of the Affair”), costume designer Catherine Marie Thomas (“Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2”) and Oscar-nominated composer Dario Marianell (“Pride & Prejudice”).

Cast

Erica Bain (Jodie Foster)
Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard)
David Kirmani (Naveen Andrews)
Jackie (Carmen Ejogo)
Detective Vitale (Nicky Katt)
Carol (Mary Steenburgen)
Mortell (Lenny Venito)
Chloe (Zoe Kravitz)

Credits

A Warner release, presented in association with Village Roadshow Pictures of a Silver Pictures production.
Produced by Joel Silver, Susan Downey.
Executive producers, Herbert W. Gains, Jodie Foster, Dana Goldberg, Bruce Berman.
Co-producer, David Gambino.
Directed by Neil Jordan.
Screenplay, Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor, Cynthia Mort; story, Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor.
Camera: Philippe Rousselot.
Editor, Tony Lawson.
Music: Dario Marianelli.
Production designer: Kristi Zea.
Art director: Robert Guerra.
Set decorator: Lydia Marks.
Costume designer: Catherine Thomas.
Sound: Tom Nelson.
Visual effects supervisor: Eric J. Robertson.

MPAA Rating: R.
Running time: 122 Minutes.