– Summary –
Director : Neil Jordan
Year Of Release : 2007
Principal Cast : Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews, Nicky Katt, Zoe Kravitz, Mary Steenbergen, Jane Adams.
Approx Running Time : 122 Minutes
Synopsis: After she’s attacked in New York’s Central Park, a woman takes on the task of tracking down those who committed the assault, and taking her revenge.
What we think : Brave in premise, lackluster in execution. Neil Jordan’s heavy-handed approach to the material does neither Foster or Howard any favors, although I will admit the ending is pretty decent.
Being a massive fan of anything Jodie Foster touches cinematically, I was eagerly awaiting the chance to watch this film. Jodie toting a gun and prowling the streets of New York (where her film career, incidentally, took off in Taxi Driver) seemed to me a decidedly eclectic mix of action hero with a dash of cerebral stimulation thrown in. Fosters talent for choosing roles suited to her strengths as an actress are well known; as is her predilection for choosing roles not entirely straight up. Here, as Erica Bain, the victim of a brutal and senseless bashing at the hands of thugs in New York’s Central Park, Foster seems determined to mine the vein of Death Wish and any other number of similarly garbed victim-turns-vigilante schlock that followed suit. With her boyfriend murdered, and her life turned upside down, she takes up a weapon and sets about righting what she sees as society’s wrongs.
Does that make The Brave One a good film, or merely a retread dressed up in fancy, Fifth Avenue clothing? The answer is simply: sort of. While the film attempts to address the issue of vigilantism, and the fact that too often, we see criminals given marginal sentences come court time, it never really tries to take a firm stand on the matter. Fosters character, for the majority of the film, is aloof from the viewer. Her reluctance to communicate with the viewer in anything other than tormented expressions and stone cold staring means that at no point do we ever connect with her in a way that will make us care for her like we probably should. Foster, it must be said, delivers another performance that is both elegant and controlled, but it’s the frustrating lack of intimacy with her situation that, for me, makes this film feel a little flat. And this, unfortunately, lies on the head of the director.
The director, Neil Jordan, the man behind films such as the seminal classic The Crying Game, and Interview With A Vampire, seems to have relied more on the audiences perception of the situation, than trying to give us any kind of real meaning to the film. The fact that we know how we would act in this situation, will predispose us to feel one way or another about Fosters own predicament; it provokes ideas in our own memory that stand in the way of anything in the film being fresh or new. And Jordan seems unable to redress that imbalance. By being biased to this situation, we are unable to see past the actions of the protagonist as anything other than simplistic, clichéd emotional churlishness.
The film is expertly shot in and around the labyrinthine alleys and lane-ways of New York, taking us to dark and dingy places (if you’ve seen Taxi Driver, or Scorsese’s other, less recognized work, Bringing Out The Dead, you’ll be used to this) and attempts to bring to the forefront a woman’s choice to take matters into her own hand. It’s not an indictment on the police; indeed, Terrence Howard’s police officer Mercer is a fairly standard issue New York Cop, and a good one at that, so the police aren’t portrayed as some bizarre conglomeration of Keystone Cops and The Naked Gun; it’s just that Erica feels compelled to act where the police, or normal people, would not. I guess one can ask: if you were pushed, and pushed hard, would you go that direction? Not a lot of us would, yet it’s not uncommon to see those pushed into a corner either physically or emotionally (or both) lash out at what we perceive as a lax and unjust system of law and order. The news often portrays those types as victims, and to a certain extent, they are, but where do they stop becoming the victim, and become a criminal themselves? Where does the line stand?
The film itself is wonderfully shot, with a muted and surreal colour palette and tone that suits the gritty, slimy underbelly of the city. The safest big city in the world has never looked so off colour. Lisa asked half way through the film if I was sure I wanted to go visit New York, and why I would after watching this. I guess that same kind of feeling comes across you after watching Eli Roths’ Hostel, perhaps one of the saddest indictments of human violence ever committed to film. The city would appear to be a cesspit of violence and crime, of yet more glorification of man’s inhumanity to man. It’s not quite that way, from all reports, but often during this film, it’s all too easy for Erica to find herself in amongst the human filth and dealing out death at her discretion.
I wanted so much to love this film. I always loved Foster, and Jordan has an Oscar and reputation for making interesting films. What The Brave One tries so hard to deliver, and what it ultimately fails at, is generating sympathy for our main character. While initially, it’s easy to side with a woman wronged, and too often, this film makes that point abundantly clear; after a while it appears that Fosters character is more interested in personal vengeance against the entire worlds wrongs than finding it within herself to stop her vendetta. After a while, it’s hard to care for somebody who kills out of spite, and if the intent of the film was to try and get us to care for her, it has failed.
With such top class production values, and a cast that clicks immediately, The Brave One should have been a cut above your standard revenge thriller. Indeed, about the only thing thrilling here is the final ten minutes, which is perhaps the point of the film, when even the final choice Erica faces is ultimately influenced by outside forces. This, in and of itself, hamstrings the poignancy the film was striving for, and ultimately dilutes any message one can glean from what could have been an elegant, stylish thriller.
Much like Woody Allen’s Match Point, one leaves this film with a bitter after-taste. However, unlike Match Point, that is not the desired effect. The Brave One is a good effort, struck down in mid stride by a somewhat clumsy script and awkward direction.