'Brave One' seeks to portray post-9/11 world

Posted: September 14, 2007

In the opening moments of "The Brave One," Jodie Foster strolls with her fiance into Central Park, where they are savagely attacked.

Before the beating, as the lovers embrace in their quiet, leafy Eden (take note of the apple), director Neil Jordan gooses the soundtrack with the ominous, deafening noise of a low-flying jetliner.

It doesn't take the anniversary of 9/11 to tip us to the fact that the movie is seeking some linkage here. (For good measure, the assault is videotaped, so that a grainy video lives on as a sickening memento of the bloody event).

Foster's character, Erica Bain, survives her catastrophic injuries, and when she regains her senses, her first sensation is loss, but her most abiding sensation is fear. Eventually the two merge to form a single impulse, which she expresses this way: "I want to buy a gun."

The extended revenge movie that follows is meant to be an examination of America's post 9/11 psyche, and how it's informed our national response.

It's not entirely complimentary. Erica packs heat, dealing death to whatever perps pass her way - estranged husband on a rampage, prowling rapist, subway thugs, etc.

It doesn't matter that these events are unlikely - that Erica is suddenly and conveniently at the epicenter of all New York crime. Revenge movies of this sort are pulp fantasies, removed just far enough from reality to permit their vicarious thrills to be enjoyed. ("Who's the bitch now?!" Erica shouts as she guns down a misogynist.)

"The Brave One" is a distaff "Death Wish" buffed up to an A-list gloss - its tony cast of Oscar winners/nominees includes Terrence Howard as the detective on the killer's trail, even as he develops an independent friendship with Erica, a radio journalist who pretends to profile the detective as she keeps tabs on the investigation.

The two have great chemistry, and they're ably directed by Jordan ("The Crying Game"), working with a shrewd script with some memorably biting dialogue (Nicky Katt has a funny role as Howard's wisecracking partner.)

The movie is smart enough, for instance, to build as much sympathy as it can for Erica's situation - it takes the full measure of her anguish, grief and boiling anger, and grants that she's entitled to it.

The more it surrenders to her rage, though, the more it seeks to implicate its audience in her crimes. When Foster drags a drugged-out rape victim from harm's way, the disoriented woman wonders, "Is this still America?"

What the lawyers call a leading question. And it leads to something hollow and borderline offensive at the core of "The Brave One," for all its gloss and craftsmanship.

It's a kind of vanity - Jordan and company imagine that the neatly packaged escapism of their revenge flick has some meaningful relevance to how we feel about our place in a terror-plagued world.

It implies that if the reptilian cortex of our movie brain enjoys Foster's rampage, we might as well be in the halls of Abu Ghraib, walking a Doberman on a leash.

Isn't that bait and switch, so to speak? You'd be excused for feeling a bit like Stephen Rea in "The Crying Game," right after the drawers are dropped. *

Produced by Joel Silver and Susan Downey, directed by Neil Jordan, written by Roderick Taylor, Bruce Taylor and Cynthia Mort, music by Dario Marianelli, distributed by Warner Bros.

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