Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Brave One

The Brave One
Directed by Neil Jordan
Starring: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews
Grade: C -

Perhaps the most aptly titled film of this year, Neil Jordan's The Brave One sees radio presenter Erica Bane (Jodie Foster) undergo an extreme transformation when she and her fiancee (Naveen Andrews) are brutally attacked by a gang of youths. Her lover does not survive the ordeal, and so Erica is left to deal with life alone, prompting her to develop a different, severely hostile attitude to the world around her; illegally purchasing a gun that inevitably features increasingly as the film advances.

It initially reads as a fascinating character study, our glimpse of Erica's cute, happy-go-lucky, loved-up character being moulded into something dark and ugly. As Erica transforms, Foster carries with her a bitter and desperate thirst for vengeance that sidesteps the self-righteous nobility that could so easily have been manifested with a character as tragic and wronged as this. The self-evaluative nature of Erica is forgivably analysed through voice-overs throughout, which do mix well with the feel of the film, despite contributing little emotion or insight.

As Erica begins to get into a few scrapes, she attracts the attention of both the police, led by Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard), and the media, who deem her "the vigilante". But as The Brave One bounds on it becomes less of a battle between grief and morality than it does a confused smattering of ideas. It seems to be battling most with itself, as the plot progresses in an all too convenient, and resultantly contrived manner. Erica confesses mid-way through the film that her newfound persona, the 'stranger' inside of her, is one that looks for trouble. But it's an all too lame excuse to justify the ease at which she finds this trouble, especially given the somewhat random nature that two of the events in question occur.

Erica conducts a radio phone-in on the public opinion of the 'vigilante', only to receive a mixed response; some treating her in the ilk of a super heroine, others condemning her for taking the law into her own hands. It comes at a particularly ruminative point in the film, and is perhaps intended to reflect the differing political, moral and ethical values of its audience, but does transfer as unncessary, and in truth a bit obtrusive. It's at this point in the film where Erica begins to develop an unlikely relationship with the Detective attempting to track her down, his curiosity with her ordeal and subsequent public questioning of New York City crime drawing them together. Foster and Howard have a definite chemistry, their careful interplay surprisingly convincing, given the film's other contrivances. Their relationship, however, moves at a fairly unnatural pace, and does lead to a couple of needless plot devices that signal the film's intentions way too easily.

Credit Jordan for his assiduous approach to the film's prevalent theme of bravery. He makes us think about what exactly it takes to be brave, and whether bravery is as admirable a quality as its reputation would imply. What is bravery? Is it acceptance? The Brave One questions both Erica and Mercer, whether she is brave for confronting the world that took her husband away and whether he is brave for risking his career to cut her a break.

But the finale of The Brave One seems to reject the attitude and values of both it's characters' towards the vigilante. Foster's Erica -- a woman without regret, but who recognises that her actions are morally reprehensible, or Howard's detective, who begins to grapple with his own conscience, as he puts the pieces of his vigilante case together. Jordan wants us to think about who 'The Brave One' actually is, but as the hunt for Erica's fiancee's killers is ever more overshadowed by her relationship with Mercer, it becomes irrelevant and glaringly overblown. The Brave One is always watchable, occasionally admirable, and maybe even a little brave itself ; but its failure is best summarised in reaction to Erica's moral questioning, "How many wrongs to make it right?". The answer: one too many.

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