Friday, September 14, 2007

Review: The Brave One

Starring: Jodie Foster, Naveen Andrews, Terrence Howard, Mary Steenburgen
Director: Neil Jordan
Producer: Susan Downey, Joel Silver
Release Date: September 14, 2007
Running time: 119 min
MPAA Rating: R

Distributors: Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures

“Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name. But what’s puzzling you, is the nature of my game.”

- The Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil

The Skinny:
Jodie Foster turns vigilante after the murder of her fiancé.

The Review:
Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) and her fiancé David (Naveen Andrews) are like two peas in a pod. She does a show on a New York talk radio station and he is a doctor. They are blissfully in love and planning their wedding. They fake-cute argue over things like invitations and what type of wedding they should have. On a walk through Central Park one night with their dog, they are brutally attacked. She is beaten within an inch of her life, and him six inches further. She wakes from her coma three weeks later to find that David’s funeral has already been held and she is left with nothing to do but pick up the pieces and try to move on.

Going in to this movie seemed like dangerous ground to tread so soon after seeing Death Sentence just two weeks ago. Another movie about an average Joe turned vigilante killer after the death of their (blank)? And even if there will always be a spot reserved in my movie loving heart for her because of Silence of the Lambs, Foster kind of fell off the map for me some time ago. This movie surprised the hell out of me.

There are three reasons it works so well. First, the performances by Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard are incredible. Foster finally jumped off that one trick pony she had been riding through her last few movies roles and added back some of the spunk that made us love her in the first place. She’s pretty much been sleepwalking for the past five years, so it’s great to see she still possesses the talent and chops that made her famous. Watch the scene where Erica does her first radio show after the attack. She gets on air, freezes and restarts three different times. It is painful to watch. Not only do you hear the fear in her voice, but you feel it for her. You just want to reach through the screen, take her out of the room and end the discomfort. Not many actors could pull it off, and even fewer with such haunting effect. Howard adds the perfect counterbalance to her performance. He plays the rare good cop who still believes in the system he fights to protect, even if he has any number of reasons to have become jaded by it.

Two, the direction from Neil Jordan is very solid. Nothing is overplayed. Even when Erica is in full on vigilante mode, the movie doesn’t just move from one kill scene to the next. They aren’t elaborately staged scenes full of blood and carnage; they all serve the story and illustrate the conflict she is going through. There is restraint in his direction that really sets the tone for everything, and gets it perfect. Even toward the end when the movie walks dangerously close to becoming a cliché cat-and-mouse thriller, he has the sense enough to pull it back and ride the horse that got him here.

Finally, the movie sort of throws conventional revenge movie wisdom out the window. The basic structure is in place, but this movie takes the time to dig deep into the emotion behind Erica’s transformation. This isn’t someone who lives through a brutally violent act then just decides out of thin air she wants to go on a killing spree. She is not a superhero, she is a real person. When she gets out of the hospital she becomes so paralyzed with fear and paranoia that she is a prisoner in her home. She can’t sleep and is afraid to even leave. When she finally forces herself to get out of the house, there is a level of fear to be expected, but we watch it consumer her. She tries the conventional route of gaining some much needed normalcy (going to the cops, getting back to work, etc). She goes to the same places she has been to a thousand times but sees things in a completely different light since the attack. There is a slow burn to her transformation that feels not only justified, but necessary without being righteous.

By definition The Brave One is a revenge movie, but dealing with the idea on such an emotional level is what sets it apart from some of the more mundane features from the same genre. The entire movie barrels on a path toward an expected conclusion but at the end, throws you for a loop by doing the opposite of what you expect. It doesn’t quite feel like cheating, but it does come out of nowhere.

The Rub:
Typical revenge movie conventions be damned - this movie primarily deals with the emotional transformation Erica goes through after her attack. Don’t let the boring and obvious title fool you, this is a fantastic movie carried by the strength of its direction and excellent performances. Everything here is played at just the right tone and we haven’t seen Foster this good in some time. Hopefully it will allow us to see more of the Jodie Foster we have come to know and love watching.

And there’s the rub.

*** 1/2 out of ****


JD said...

THis is a really good review.
I liked this one a lot. There is a ton of emotion at her core in this film!!

Ulf Eriksson said...

In Sweden its called: "The Stranger Inside" which I think is a better title...