In a flawed legal system amid an imperfect world, can true justice ever be attained? Can an individual, exacting justice in ways in which the system has failed, fulfill it? Or is no single person capable or even worthy of a responsibility of this magnitude, due to the inevitable reality of turning into that which he or she is trying to avenge?
These questions and more have been examined in countless films, and “The Brave One” is the latest to offer an opinion on the role of the vigilante. The film opens in a predictable and unremarkable way—the characters and the set-up are nothing new. However, after the story catalyst, it becomes a fascinating character study, setting off to explore deeper themes. What is particularly interesting is that it is from the perspective of a woman, not often seen in these types of male-driven stories.
Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) is enjoying life as the host of a successful radio show while preparing to marry the love of her life (Naveen Andrews). In the blink of an eye, a brutal mugging eradicates her world to shatters, putting her in a coma and leaving her fiancé dead. When she awakes, she is slowly transformed into someone unafraid to stand up and demand justice, by violent means if necessary. It isn’t long before her path crosses with a sympathetic detective (Terrence Howard) tracking the elusive “justice” killer, and he is soon forced to make the most difficult decision of his career.
Foster has always excelled at playing strong-willed characters and does a fine job with this one. She brings a haunted brokenness to Erica, who is desperately trying to pick up the pieces and find a reason to go on living, and it’s this depiction which makes up the backbone of the film. She also conveys believability for when Erica finds that purpose by handing out her own form of lethal judgment, discovering strength within herself she never thought attainable. Not many actresses could have pulled off this conflicting type of duality, but Foster does admirably in both areas.
Terrence Howard, while not on the same level as Foster, is solid nonetheless. Turning in his best work since his breakout year of 2005 (“Crash,” “Hustle & Flow”), he provides a determined, multi-layered performance, and the scenes between him and Foster are among the film’s highlights. He remains in top form on his own too, whether it is on the trail of the killings, wrestling with a failed marriage or dealing with a murderer he can’t put away due to the lack of evidence. Nicky Katt does a nice job as Howard’s partner, providing a few lines of comic relief that don’t feel out of place in the serious surroundings. Sadly, the same can’t be true of Naveen Andrews (Sayid from “Lost”), whose talents are sorely wasted here, amounting to little more than a cliché in his handful of scenes.
Director Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game,” “Interview With The Vampire”) is successful in creating an atmosphere parallel to what Foster’s character is experiencing. The cinematography is cold and desaturated, emphasizing isolation and hopelessness. He also relies on a number of interesting shots from extreme angles, capturing Foster’s sense of paranoia in riveting fashion.
Sustained by another fantastic performance from Foster, “The Brave One” is a gripping look at a woman grappling with the dark recesses of her mind. In spite of its intriguing promise, it ultimately fails to deliver a message either well-thought out or profound. Let down by the writing and an unbelievable ending, which seem to contradict all that has come before it, the film squanders the opportunity to say anything meaningful. It really is too bad because for a second it looked like it was going to be something special.