The Brave One is the "Jodie Foster as Charles Bronson" film.
Jodie plays a victim of urban violence. She lives through a brutal mugging
which killed her fiancÚ and soul-mate. Her physical scars heal, but she has a difficult time
re-entering the world because the beating left her with even greater emotional
scars. In her job as a roving radio personality whose
schtick is "reporter about town" in New York, she had come to love the Big
Apple, but the mugging changed all that. In her recovery period she finds
herself terrified of things which she had theretofore relished as part of the city's
... A man comes close to her at high speed; she goes into panic mode,
only to discover that the man is just an ordinary commuter rushing for his
Her paranoia is enhanced by the realization that her assailants could
know that she is alive, and that she may be able to identify them. When
she can no longer live with the paralyzing fear of everyday existence, she
gets herself a gun for protection. Because of the gun control laws in New
York, she is forced to acquire a 9mm handgun on the black market.
She doesn't start out with a desire to be Charles Bronson. She's just
protecting herself, and her career
as a vigilante starts as an unavoidable matter of self-defense. She's in a
convenience store during a robbery, hiding successfully until her cell
phone goes off and the robber becomes aware of her presence. She knows
she's in a life-or-death situation because she's already seen the robber gun
down the store clerk without provocation, so she hides, waits, and is
lucky enough to survive by getting the drop on the bad guy. She has
to fire three shots at close range to score a single hit, but she does get
the job done. Her black market gun gives her anonymity, so she just
walks away from the crime scene.
It is not long before she is taking an increasingly bold and
proactive role in vigilante justice, setting herself up as bait to invite thuggery, then exacting stern justice on the would-be thugs. Within a
month or so, she has turned into Batman, no longer content to place
herself in situations which invite
criminal behavior, but now actively seeking out the city's lowlifes and
whacking them by night. Her increasing confidence brings her closer to a
head-to-head confrontation with the thugs who attacked her in the opening
Balanced against Jodie's story is the tale of the cop who is
investigating the vigilante murders. In fact, he becomes Jodie's close
friend after coming into contact with her twice, in her twin roles as a radio
interviewer and a victim of violence. He has no idea at first that she
might be committing the crimes she's reporting on, but he's a dedicated
and smart cop, and he gradually puts two and two together. Lacking any
hard evidence, he arranges a meeting with Jodie and tells her indirectly,
through a parable, that (1) he knows the score (2) he will bring her in,
even if she is a friend, even if he sympathizes with her aims.
The ending of the film creates dramatic suspense from Jodie's pursuit
of the baddies, and the cop's pursuit of Jodie.
I kind of liked the film, but I'm having a hard time articulating why,
or even understanding why, because it is a film which eventually betrays its basic
premise to create an audience-friendly ending, and that always bothers me. The audience is invited to wonder how
the film's Gordian Knot can possibly be cut or untangled, given that Jodie
has determined to kill her assailants, the cop has determined to bring her
to justice, and Jodie has announced that she will accept the consequences,
however the game plays out.
And then the script cheats.
After the film makes a painstaking effort to establish that the
policeman is honest and incorruptible, thus assuring some kind of tragic
ending for one or both of the sympathetic characters, it manages to
resolve the situation simply by making him turn dishonest and corruptible.
See how easy scriptwriting can be, kids?
So, given this cheap bit of deus ex machina, why did I like the film?
I'll offer two reasons.
(1) The film has a poetic tone and style to it. There are two good
people in love with each other and the city. Only one survives. The other
lives on in anguish, delivering haunting and highly articulate radio
monologues about her feelings. One good cop sympathizes with the
victim, but can't let her use New York City as her personal hunting
One scene that is particularly memorable involves Jodie's fiancÚ being
wheeled into emergency surgery. The film pictorializes what he's thinking
of in his dying moments (making love to Jodie), but intercuts his tranquil thoughts
with the grim reality of what is happening to him on the operating table,
thus showing how the real events may be stimulating his subconscious. We
see the doctors cut off his underpants in a frenetic rush to save his
life, then we look into his mind, where he's removing Jodie's underpants
in a tender memory. That scene is absolutely brilliant, as is the scene
where Terrence tells Jodie what he knows without actually telling her
(2) Terence Howard and Jodie Foster really make the movie work. Film
this same script with Kari Wuhrer as the victim and Stephen Baldwin as the
cop, and it could be just formulaic straight-to-vid fare, but Terrence and
Jodie raise it to a different level. What's amazing to watch is that
Terrence and Jodie are so similar as actors, especially considering that
one is a black man and the other a white woman. It's like they are in one
of those science fiction movies where the alien presence goes from body to
body, because it seems like they are playing the same person in different
bodies. Both of them are sensitive, soft-spoken, in control, refined, yet
both of them have an intense volcano of emotions just below the surface,
as reflected in their eyes. They are two of the very best actors in the
"subtle underplaying" category, and that works perfectly in this movie.
Those elements make it a good movie, up to a point. Too bad it
was not true to itself, because it might have been a classic.