Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Brave One (2007)

It's a little disturbing that someone as experienced and as intelligent as Jodie Foster would apparently be under the delusion that The Brave One, which she executive produced, is a good film. It's certainly an entertaining movie, and well-crafted by Neil Jordan, but if it was intended to be a serious look at urban violence and vigilantism (which it certainly seems to be) then it falls incredibly short.

Briefly, the movie tells a standard 1970s-style urban revenge story, this time about Foster's Erica Bain, a radio talk-show host whose fiance gets murdered in a mugging by Latino thugs. Scared and emotionally ravaged, Erica soon finds herself roaming the streets at night with a gun, putting herself into dangerous situations like an addict who won't admit they have a problem.

One of the movie's key problems is that the victims of Erica's vigilante wrath are all obviously bad guys who deserve to die (a murdering husband, a predatory pimp, a wealthy mobster) and the audience is urged to root for their murders with little doubt that Erica is doing the right thing. It's a pandering way to get the audience on Erica's side while conveniently sidestepping the issue of whether what she's doing is right or wrong.

The movie reaches its climax (Spoilers!) when Erica is able to track down the thugs who killed her boyfriend at the beginning of the movie, murders two of them, and is about to kill the third when Terrence Howard's honest cop character shows up. Now, the ending of a movie is where a filmmaker really makes their most important decisions as far as where to leave the audience and what statement, ultimately, they want to send. Jordan and Foster could have done the right thing in several different ways: they could have emphasized that Erica Bain's character is a fragile, emotionally damaged woman lashing out at the world that has hurt her, trying to take control by killing those she deems to be in need of killing; that her actions, while cheerable, are still totally illegal and ethical only in a Hollywood revenge fantasy; and that a story like this should not end happily.

So how do they end it? Terrence Howard suggests a cover-up to let Erica get away free and clear and the third murderer gets a bullet in the head. Ignore the fact that any investigation would be able to use basic forensic evidence to poke massive holes in their cover story, and the movie basically ends on a note of total audience-pandering hypocrisy. The film apparently tells us that a little bit of vigilantism is healthy and therapeutic, and you have some major mixed messages mixed in with co-dependency and denial.

As I said, the movie is partially redeemed by Neil Jordan's skill behind the camera and a bunch of good performances (besides Foster and Howard, Nicky Katt and Ene Ojola), plus a pulsing emotionalism that it wears on its sleeve, but I always say, the best-crafted movie in the world is meaningless if it's hollow at its center. This movie isn't hollow, but it is deeply confused.


cjKennedy said...

Hmmm...I think we've had the discussion before about whether a movie can exist solely for the purposes of entertainment and not have any kind of a message to it.

Does The Brave One work as purely message free entertainment?

I ask this having just seen The Kingdom which has been criticized in some circles for squandering it's subject matter on basically an empty action movie.

For me, it succeeded as an action movie and I was happy to do without the Haggis style lecturing and moralizing.

Jeff McMahon said...

It succeeds on the level of entertainment, but the problem here is that the movie so obviously has its sights set on being a thinking person's revenge thriller, which it fails at. It's tough for me to separate the parts of the movie that work from the parts that don't. Basically, The Brave One writes checks that it can't cash.

Jeff McMahon said...

That might not have been clear so let me try again: I would have been happy to enjoy the movie as simple entertainment, but the movie itself wouldn't let me do that because it kept insisting on how important it was. I hope that makes more sense.

cjKennedy said...

I think I understand. You're judging the movie based on the standards it appears to set for itself. It's playing at being a thinking person's thriller and it fails.