Bullets over Broadway
THE BRAVE ONE Directed by Neil Jordan. Starring Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews, Nicky Katt, Mary Steenburgen 16 cert, gen release, 122 min
ONE OF Neil Jordan’s rare ventures into mainstream Hollywood studio production, The Brave One finds him in the company of Jodie Foster as she continues her penchant for action roles after Panic Room and Flightplan, and Joel Silver, the producer of the first two Die Hard movies, the Matrix trilogy and the four Lethal Weapon pictures.
Foster plays Erica Bain, a Manhattan public radio presenter who prefaces her show with references to New York as “the safest big city in the world”. Erica’s outlook on life – and the city – is changed utterly when she and her fiance (Naveen Andrews) are brutally attacked by three thugs in Central Park.
Erica emerges from a coma, initially afraid to go outdoors. Although her physical wounds heal, she remains emotionally scarred. Her fear is channelled into anger and frustration when it seems unlikely that the assailants will be brought to justice.
“There are plenty of ways to die,” a philosophical neighbour tells her. “You need to find a way to live again.” Erica opts to live again by killing criminals. She buys a gun and gains a renewed sense of empowerment when she takes to the streets as a vigilante.
Jordan’s staging of the horrific early attack is arresting, and The Brave One goes beyond the simplistic, bloodthirsty nature of such 1970s movies as Death Wish when Erica’s radio show operates as a phone-in forum to debate the issue of vigilantism. However, it ultimately raises more questions than it answers, and the screenplay is bogged down in unlikely contrivances.
The central relationship is unconvincingly forged between Erica and a divorced detective, played by Terrence Howard, despite the committed performances of both fine actors. In fact, Foster proves much more effective in scenes where she is on her own and her gritty screen presence is commanding.
For a woman who apparently lived for four decades in the city without being affected by crime, Erica now finds it everywhere she goes on her nocturnal gun-toting forays: in a convenience store, on the subway, on the streets. This scenario might have been more appropriate for a story set in 1970s New York, in the heyday of the vigilante movie, rather than in the cleaned-up, comparatively much safer place it is today.
Writer Roderick Taylor, who mined vigilantism as a theme 25 years ago in the forgettable The Star Chamber, collaborated on the screenplay with his son Bruce A Taylor. TV writer Cynthia Mort was hired “to add a female voice”.
This is Jordan’s 15th feature film, and only the third (after We’re No Angels and Interview with the Vampire) on which he does not have a screenplay credit. It clearly is not one of his more personal projects, even though there a few Jordan motifs such as characters not being what they seem or crossing moral boundaries.
Given the problem is in the plotting of The Brave One, it is ironic that Jordan has crafted far more outlandish scenarios in his original screenplays (such as The Crying Game) and his collaborations with Patrick McCabe (The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto), and with such confidence and imagination that they prompted and sustained the viewer’s willing suspension of disbelief.
Taking it to the streets: Jodie hits back