The Brave One wavers between serious and sensationalistic
Early on in The Brave One, scenes of two assault victims receiving emergency medical treatment are intercut with images of the same couple making love. It’s a skillfully edited and patently disturbing sequence, and it turns out to be emblematic of a film in which daring insights and offbeat characterization stumble repeatedly in the direction of morbidly manipulative sensationalism.
An esteemed director (The Crying Game‘s Neil Jordan) and a strikingly nuanced performance by Jodie Foster fail to hide the story’s lurid underpinnings. Foster plays Erica Bain, a talk-radio personality who, with her fiancé (Naveen Andrews), is brutally attacked by thugs in a city park. The fiancé dies, and Erica—eventually, but soon enough—finds herself transformed into a sort of freelance urban vigilante.
In a rather forced parallel plot development, a police detective (Terrence Howard) tracking the emerging vigilante case becomes personally involved with Erica at the same time that his suspicions begin to grow. That stacks the melodramatic decks even more absurdly.
But matters are already bad enough in a production that can’t seem to settle on a coherent approach to the Bain character. She is, by somewhat erratic turns, an aggrieved victim, a disfigured celebrity, an avenging angel, a tortured soul, a kind of feminist Dirty Harry, a case study in the psychopathology of violence—and this is a scenario that opens with a sort of TV cop-show cutesiness, then juggles the aggrieved avenger with the tortured soul for a while, and finishes with a throwback fantasy of vigilante wish-fulfillment.
The coda to that final plot twist, a lengthy stylized shot of Foster fleeing through narrow city streets, reiterates the tortured-soul theme—but the expressive force of that shot is too little too late. Jordan’s shifting directorial perspectives throughout imply complexities that the story as a whole never fully delivers.
That final shot and some of the subtle ironies in Foster’s performance would be fully at home in a much better movie than this one turns out to be. And Foster’s edgy star turn here remains a small triumph even after you realize that she is also one of the producers of this oddly mixed bag of tricks.