Foster shines in 'The Brave One'

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Neil Jordan, with deliberately slow pacing, directs "The Brave One" with artistic skill and a classy cast. This movie poses a question without answering it: "Does a crime happening to you justify you taking the law into your own hands?"

Erica Bain (played brilliantly by Jodie Foster) softly intones her view of New York City through her nostalgic monologues as a radio show personality. A thoughtful woman, she lives in a multi-ethnic neighborhood, and plans to marry David, a doctor (deliciously played by Naveen Andrews). Everything is soft, romantic and peaceful; the weightiest thing on her mind is the color of her wedding invitations. Her show, "Street Walk" has her walking the streets like a woman in love, in love with NYC and its rich history; she tells sentimental stories of Eloise's ghost at the Plaza Hotel and quotes D.H. Lawrence and Emily Dickinson.

Horrible tragedy wakes her up to the gritty reality of her city; Erica and David, walking their dog at Stranger's Gate, are confronted by muggers. Two punks fatally beat her fiance, and she is left for dead. While bludgeoning the couple with a pipe, the assailants videotape their sadistic act, so parts of it unfold on the big screen and others on the tiny one, a unique detail that plays large.

Jordan juxtaposes the emergency room urgency with scenes of Erica and David making love, the "little death" of sex set against the larger final death of David. Three weeks later she awakes to find the funeral of her fiance past, and to a different life her fiance dead, her body bruised and her city not the velveteen rabbit she thought it was. She is not consumed by a need for revenge but by fear, terrifying fear of the city she has known and loved her entire life. Her tragedy has left her altered.

"You don't pull it back together," she says. "You become someone else."

She buys a gun.

Unable to sleep, she walks the city. She witnesses a domestic murder in a convenience store and in an act of self-defense shoots the murderer. Her neighbor, an African woman who has seen her own horrors, tells Erica, "There's plenty of ways to die; now you have to figure out a way to live." The petite Foster becomes a one-woman vigilante force, righting the wrongs in her city to make it once again the place she loves.

Mercer, the police officer tracking the vigilante (played by Terrence Howard) already seduced by Erica's voice on the radio, agrees to be interviewed on her show. The chemistry between the two is a vital part of the movie's conclusion but it is also the most unlikely part.

Erica's vigilantism is used as a way of exploring the terrible emotional toll taken on survivors of violent crime. She is not swooping down from rooftops, but this movie uses an old concept to understand something deeper and more real than you would expect. This only heightens the movie's tense action scenes, and Jodie Foster's standout performance should nominate her for an Oscar.

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