The high ground that The Brave One never recovers is taken early in the film, after Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) and her boyfriend are accosted in Central Park by thugs who kill him and put her in the hospital. Director Neil Jordan cuts back and forth from a flashback showing the couple making love to the present-tense aftermath of the attack: limp bodies, and clothing scissored away from blood-caked skin. I doubt this sobering editorial flourish was a screenwriter’s creation — more likely it was cooked up by Jordan and his editor, Tony Lawson, who was an assistant on Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. It points up the fact that The Brave One is well-made in a number of important ways —
it boasts sensitive direction, colorful widescreen camerawork, and a fine,
voice-centered performance from Jodie Foster. It’s disappointing that it’s not
a better movie.
The story is straightforward revenge-thriller material — Bain buys a 9mm pistol and takes criminal justice into her own hands. Along the way she befriends Mercer (Terrence Howard), an earnest detective who
befriends Erica while (of course) investigating the rash of vigilante killings. So our story begins with a
brutal murder and ends with multiple acts of audience-pleasing vengeance, and the
material in between is peppered with explosions of violence. So far, so good. (Hey, Ms. 45 is one of my favorite movies.) But the film is executed as a think piece, with Foster playing a woman so full of fear and anger that she loses her moral compass entirely. That’s fine, too, but the difference between the movie’s twin impulses — is this a Death Wish update or a highbrow character study? — creates a conflict that the script doesn’t support and Jordan can’t reconcile. It reminds me of In the Cut, another serious movie by serious filmmakers who seemed too aware that they were slumming in the material. I admire what Jordan’s trying to accomplish here, but this sort of thing demands the hand of a director who’s less, shall we say, earnest about it. C+