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Making strange bedfellows

'The Brave One' tries but fails to class-up a revenge story, leaving an unsatisfying mix of nuance and baser elements.

September 14, 2007|By Kenneth Turan Times Staff Writer

"The BRAVE ONE" is less a brave movie than a foolhardy one. Trapped in a no man's land between seriousness and pulp trash, it plays like a combination of "Death Wish" and "The Hours." If that sounds like an awkward fit, it is.

The first collaboration between upmarket Hollywood star Jodie Foster and mass-market producer Joel Silver, "The Brave One" is an unwise attempt to have it all, to attract the sensitive audience that swoons at Ms. Foster's nuanced performances as well as the yahoos who scream when evil blood is spilt. Would that it were that simple.

Though a lot of prerelease talk about Foster's role as a woman who kills those who deserve to die on the forever-mean streets of New York has referenced the celebrated 1974 vigilante movie "Death Wish" (which had four sequels), a more apt comparison is "Ms. 45," an unapologetically violent potboiler directed by the unrepentant Abel Ferrara in 1981 about, yes, a woman who murderously takes the law into her own hands.

Because neither Foster nor director Neil Jordan wants anyone to think they've made anything as lurid and disreputable as "Ms. 45: The Sequel," great pains have been taken to dress up "The Brave One's" similar material in socially acceptable clothing.

Once Foster committed to the project, screenwriter Cynthia Mort (HBO's "Tell Me You Love Me") was brought on to "add a female voice" (says producer Susan Downey) to the writing team of Roderick Taylor and Bruce A. Taylor, and the star herself has been insistent in a slew of interviews that "The Brave One" is "a much deeper, monstrously existential journey" than it is a mere revenge story.

Unfortunately, the film Foster thinks she has made is not the one on the screen. Both director Jordan and producer Silver, who insisted on retaining the project's gung-ho title despite objections from the star, have ensured that "The Brave One's" numerous violent moments are made with enough bloodthirsty enthusiasm to appeal to the audience that dotes on savage retribution.

If the level of violence makes "The Brave One's" soul-in-torment stuff seem more like window dressing than it should, what legitimately tormented moments the film does have make the violence sequences feel tacked on and out of place. Instead of the best of both worlds, the filmmakers have managed to deliver the worst.

"The Brave One" does not start particularly well either, as it introduces Foster as Erica Bain, an NPR-type voice who delivers radio essays of such crescendoing banality it's hard to believe that she is a successful on-air personality in the great city of New York. Erica is also part of a fun, kicky Manhattan relationship with handsome young doctor David Kirmani (Naveen Andrews), a love duet of such supreme happiness that it's only a matter of time until something very bad happens to the couple.

On a dark night in Central Park, that evil comes to pass: The young lovers are given beatings of such ferocity that potential viewers of "The Brave One" would be well advised to come to the theater 10 minutes late and miss that particular bit of carnage entirely.

A physical and mental wreck, Erica must figure out a reason to keep living, and it is in these moments, brief though they are, that Foster is at her most convincing and psychologically effective.

But "The Brave One" does not want to linger on this kind of pain: After all, Erica has places to go and people to kill. Soon enough she purchases a 9-millimeter handgun to ease her troubled mind, and before you can say "Charles Bronson," a series of wicked coincidences put her in contact with charter members of the Deserve to Die club. The rest, as they say, is history.

The film's violence also connects Erica with another big-city loner, New York police Det. Sean Mercer. As played by Terrence Howard, one of those actors who never puts a wrong foot forward, Det. Mercer is a more involving character than he would otherwise be. But the scenes Howard and Foster share can't redeem "The Brave One." Even if it's true that "anyone can cross that line, anyone can be a killer," not just anyone can make that premise into a convincing film.


"The Brave One." MPAA rating: R, for strong violence, language and some sexuality. Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes. In general release.

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