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The Case For Revenge

In A Resurgent World Of Screen Vigilantes, Jodie Foster Takes A Fiery Stand.

August 26, 2007|Rachel Abramowitz | Times Staff Writer

Jodie FOSTER is perfectly aware that in reality women don't kill strangers. "They kill their husbands and their children and themselves," said the 44-year-old actress matter-of-factly. "That's how women handle rage and abuse. Men are able to push outwards and are able to say, 'I'm hurt so there must be something wrong with you.'

"Let's say there is one that is," she continued. A woman who does expel her anger outwards, that is. And let's say she's played by the two-time Oscar winner. "What is she like?" asked Foster. "What if she's someone who says, 'I'm not going to kill my children. I'm not going to kill myself. I'm going to kill that . . .'?"

In the film "The Brave One," opening in mid-September from Warner Bros., audiences will see Foster's rendition of this kind of a woman, an NPR-type radio host who is thrashed by malicious gangbangers in the first 10 minutes of the movie, then left in a bloody heap to watch them pummel her fiancé to a pulp. Afterward, her character transforms into a cerebral vigilante, methodically mowing down an array of wife-beaters, muggers, hoodlums and psychopaths. It's a replay of 1974's "Death Wish," with Foster as a pint-sized Charles Bronson in a hoodie and leather jacket. Or a reworking of "Taxi Driver" where the girl who so memorably played the child prostitute in short shorts and a floppy hat has grown up and turned into Travis Bickle, her own addled savior.

Like the original "Death Wish," which sparked controversy for theoretically sanctifying antisocial behavior, "The Brave One" (written by Roderick Taylor, Bruce Taylor and Cynthia Mort) seems destined to divide audiences, between those who are titillated by Foster's descent into a cold-fingered executioner, riveted by her startlingly physical performance -- Foster practically invades the film with her tiny, sinewy form and low, modulated tones -- and others who will find it an exploitation movie tricked out like an art film, a morally repugnant exercise in which vengeance is celebrated. And don't be surprised if the controversy breaks down along gender lines between women who groove to Foster's brainy and bloodthirsty rebellion and men who find it all man-hating.

Foster, the Yale grad, perhaps one of the best talkers in all of showbiz, insisted she's not advocating simple-minded revenge. She certainly would prefer that audiences leave with a higher-minded message about the cost of violence, about the fear that has lurked in the hearts of Americans ever since Sept. 11. "There's something incredibly true about the rage and fear that we don't lay claim to, but once you experience it, you know it's been there all along and everybody else walking down the street is lying to themselves," she said recently over a cup of coffee.

What Foster said is provocative and mouthy, and it was at odds with her off-screen persona, all soft and fluffy, decked out in hassle-free practical mom mode. Perhaps there's no movie star who does regular girl better than Foster, who's been famous since she was 3, and shatteringly withstood the real dark side of fame -- John Hinckley Jr.'s obsession with her. Normalness is her invisibility cloak, though her mind, as it unveils itself, is anything but ordinary, and her startlingly blue eyes, with their ability to summon acute pain, hint at the turmoil inside.

Undeniably, Foster's star power and her standing in the industry elevate "The Brave One," turning it into a movie that can appeal to both the lowbrow and the high-. It transforms a woman-in-jeopardy scenario into a twisted woman-empowerment tale. Yet her film is not the only one that touches on revenge this season. Indeed, in "Reservation Road," coming from director Terry George in October, a nerdy college professor (Joaquin Phoenix) is consumed with thoughts of revenge toward the man (Mark Ruffalo) who inadvertently killed his son in a hit-and-run accident. And then there's James Wan's "Death Sentence," about a mild-mannered ad executive (Kevin Bacon) who turns into a vigilante after his son is murdered.

Responding to terror

The ghost of 9/11 -- and the sense of powerlessness it wrought in the culture -- hovers over these movies.

"However people may object to this film, it reflects an awful lot of stuff in the world. Terror. I think people are living in a state of terror and they don't know how to respond to what is affecting their lives at the moment," said "The Brave One's" director, Neil Jordan, who also made the British gangster film "Mona Lisa" and "The Crying Game," with its IRA terrorists kidnapping a British soldier. "Whether they're right-wing or left-wing, liberal or conservative, or an ex-Trotskyite like I am, there's a deep sense of unease, not just in the United States but in Britain as well. When a doctor tries to set himself on fire in a Glasgow airport. . . ." He trailed off.

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