The Brave One
Though a plot thumbnail suggests a Ms. 45
update, Neil Jordan’s hypnotically depressing The Brave One is more like a time capsule-ready, femme noir Taxi Driver. Instead of Martin Scorsese’s’ Sodom-on-the-Hudson vision of New York, talk radio personality-turned-vigilante Erica Bain (Jodie Foster, in a frighteningly present performance) ends up crazed and murderous in Manhattan’s spiritual dead zones where gentrification frays and Bush-era social Darwinism breeds monsters at both ends of the economic spectrum. The movie falters with a final what-the-fuck? twist, but its fluency with fear-driven moral ambivalence feels just right for these bad new days.
Like Taxi Driver, Brave opens with a surreal drift through an ominous Manhattan. Instead of Travis Bickle’s poetic loathing, Erica pines in her radio broadcast voice-over for the wild-style, pre-Giuliani New York of Andy Warhol, Sid Vicious, and legendary Plaza Hotel matron loons.
Yet Erica’s also the beneficiary of gentrification, a high-salaried professional engaged to a doctor (Lost’s Naveen Andrews) and living on the cushy Upper West Side. The couple enjoys a nighttime stroll in Central Park. Upon entering the “Stranger’s Gate” tunnel (a real place), they’re attacked by racially amorphous hoods who viciously pummel Erica, kill David, and video the whole thing for later enjoyment.
While on the mend in an overcrowded hospital, Erica meets divorced homicide detective Mercer (Terrence Howard), whose love of the law—it gives him structure—is being sorely tested by his inability to collar a contemptuous drug and human trafficker who, like Erica’s attackers, performs monstrous acts simply because he can.
Erica’s body heals, but her mind snaps. On the subway, some thugs threaten an elderly black couple, a Radiohead-loving trust-fund hipster, and finally Erica. “Ever been fucked by a knife?” one queries, holding one to her throat. She responds by loading his gut with lead from a gun bought in a prior paranoiac freakout. Before you can say “You talkin’ to me?” Erica is haunting the city’s dark corners—filmed by Philippe Rousselot in claustrophobically framed, smudged chiaroscuro—and whacking lowlifes while playing a cat-and-mouse identity game with Mercer, who’s the possible key to both her redemption and death.
Like Erica, director Jordan wants you to enjoy the sick rush of the kill followed immediately by the intolerable moral nausea at having done so. The Brave One suffers the aforementioned iffy end twist and the welcome problem of having too much on its mind: anxious Sept. 11, Iraq, and American soul ruminations, Erica obsessively recording city sounds in a pitiful attempt to find out what’s gone lousy with herself and the world. Whatever—Foster’s performance and the movie’s spot-on critique of our media-numbed mayhem addiction and attendant culture of vengeance make it essential.