Screenwriters: Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor, Cynthia Mort
Starring: Jodie Foster, Naveen Andrews, Terrence Howard, Mary Steenburgen
Running time: 122 mins
If conventional wisdom is to be believed, the big roles dry up when a Hollywood actress hits 40. But Jodie Foster, always a woman apart, isn't about to succumb to the status quo. Since she turned 40, she's made her French-language debut (A Very Long Engagement), depicted the ultimate power woman (Inside Man) and given a heart-wrenching portrayal of maternal distress (Flightplan). Her latest trend-bucking role? That of a gun-toting, law-shunning vigilante killer.
Life isn't half bad for Erica Bain (Foster). She loves her job as a New York radio host, lives in a tasteful, spacious Manhattan apartment and is planning her wedding to David (Andrews), a chipper cockernee doctor. But her idyllic life is interrupted when she and David are set upon by a gang of knife-wielding thugs during their evening stroll in Central Park. When Erica awakes from a coma a fortnight later, her beloved fiance has already been buried. Riddled with fear, she buys an illegal gun from a backstreet vendor and begins to play judge, jury and executioner. Pretty soon, New York is abuzz with tales of a vigilante killer who's taking the law into his - as the NYPD's star detective (Howard) assumes – own hands.
The Brave One should be applauded for attempting to mine the grey areas of morality, a rare effort for a Hollywood film. Erica's killing spree is neither condemned nor feted, but it's hard to resist the conclusion that the film-makers want us to admire her, especially when the kindly matriarch in her apartment block turns a blind eye to her increasingly suspicious behaviour. Director Jordan presents a barren, chillingly grim version of New York City - a welcome antidote to the Disneyland utopia the silver screen often imparts – and the scene in which Erica and David are attacked is a wince-inducing triumph. Vividly shot and frenetically edited, we feel every punch, kick and head-slam. But the movie's trump card is Foster's staggeringly intense performance in the central role: a vein bulges in her forehead, her eyes flicker with terror and every inch of her taut, lithe body seems to pulsate with barely-contained rage.
However, The Brave One is hampered by its failure to track Erica's genesis from petrified, grief-stricken victim to maniacal, gun-toting vigilante. In a hasty succession of hackneyed scenes, we see Erica chain-smoking furiously, padding around her dark, listless flat and breaking down when she hears David's voice on the answering machine. (Reminded of his teeth-grinding Dick Van Dyke twang, we’re pretty much compelled to do the same.) One minute she's drumming her fingers in a drab, soulless police waiting room, the next she's buying a gun from an illegal vendor. Because we're never quite sure what's driving Erica - Is it fear? Does she want revenge? Did the attack unleash a latent homicidal streak? - her killing spree isn't as compelling as it should be. Consequently, The Brave One is never more than a mediocre movie blessed with a terrific central performance, rather than a terrific movie in its own right.