Dir: Neil Jordan
Starring: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Nicky Katt, Naveen Andrews
Run. Time: 119mins
Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) and her fiancé (Naveen Andrews) are randomly and brutally attacked in a public park. Erica goes into a coma and when she awakes her life has been completely destroyed. Afraid and alone she buys a gun for her own protection but soon uses it for more than that, all the while questioning the right of her vigilante crusade.
Vigilante films have been done numerous times over so making something original is always a challenge, but I feel that The Brave One is up to it. The protagonist, Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) is pivotally introduced as a likeable character. She’s happy and interesting and pleasant to watch. The uneventful first twenty minutes or so never drags and feels like watching Amelie. There’s no sense of dread building on screen but everyone knows what’s going to happen. This gives a very subdued darkness to the film and was a wise choice by the filmmakers. The relationship between Erica and her fiancé, David (Naveen Andrews), is believable, sweet and touching. Erica’s anticipation of the wedding is palpable and I found myself almost wanting the film to simply be about the shenanigans running up to and during the wedding. This first section of the film expertly makes the viewer emotionally invested in these characters. This makes the tragic turn of events all the more harrowing.
The central scene in the film is very well done. It’s brutal without being excessive. The director chooses to have one of the antagonists film the tragic encounter on a low quality DV camera adding an air of realism and enabling the director to film impact shots without making the violence seem pornographic. This scene is very disturbing and the sound effect work here is exemplary, as it is throughout the rest of the film. I don’t know if the sound of metal on bone was accurate, but it was suitably unsettling. The scenes where Erica wakes up are also painful to watch and the make up in the film is outstanding with Jodie Foster looking truly badly beaten.
Another interesting device used is juxtaposition of tender flashbacks between Erica and her fiancé against scenes of extreme violence. I felt this worked to great emotional effect without seeming pretentious and I respected that the tender scenes were those of intimate sexual encounters instead of something artificially sweet.
Unsurprisingly the film changes pace and the vigilante aspect starts, which is the true crux of the film. Each killing is brutal but the violence is never glorified and Erica never seems to be on a crusade but is constantly questioning herself and the audience is encouraged to question as well, but in a non-patronising manner. The nature of her killing changes throughout the film and we are asked once again to question if we approved of her actions before, do we still? Although being a subjective film we get a sense of the character’s removal from her actions, a tribute to Jodie Foster’s acting calibre.
As always the side of law and order has to be represented and is done so through Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard). The relationship between the two characters is again believable and touching as both are fundamentally unhappy people and the actors convey this in every motion. Mercer is also a likeable character and easy to sympathise with and the audience is left to judge much of what is happening for themselves. The opinion of the public is also covered in one excellent sequence.
What really drives this film are the central performances and Jodie Foster is on top form as usual. Having never seen Terrence Howard before I was very impressed. The supporting cast is also extremely solid. The film looks great, taking us deep into the underbelly of a fully realised New York and the sound is fantastic. I really responded to the sound effect chosen for Erica’s gun. Everything just seemed to fit. The film is brilliantly paced and never drags despite its changes in focus.
The film isn’t perfect, however. I felt the score needed to be stronger and less generic. It’s atmospheric enough but in no way enhances what’s on screen like it did in Requiem For A Dream, for example. There are some odd moments of obvious comic relief. I don’t know if these were insisted upon to make the movie more commercial but one in particular does interrupt the movie, the only blip in pacing. The other is an entire character, Mercer’s partner. Perhaps the point was to show how he deals with the filth around him through humour but the character, although watchable and well-played, seemed out of place. Perhaps the biggest problem is in the ending. It didn’t make me think, “that was the wrong way to end the film” like Collateral did but it didn’t feel quite right either. That said I can’t really offer an alternative and it’s very difficult to end a vigilante movie in an original way. It did seem slightly at odds with the tone of the film, but not overly so. One positive comment though, is that is refuses to pass a definitive judgement on the preceding events and does put that onus entirely on the viewer, which as I’ve pointed out is one of the film’s strongest points.
I was pleasantly surprised by this film, having average expectations and would recommend it for an enjoyable but challenging two hours.
An intelligent and involving thriller with strong performances and great pacing let down only by a weak score and a possibly weak ending.
Originally posted Monday, 24 September 2007.