MovieMantz Review: 'The Brave One'

Home of the ‘Brave’

by Scott Mantz

“The Brave One”
Starring: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard
Directed by: Neil Jordan

In “The Brave One,” Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain, a radio host from New York City who goes through more trauma in just a few months than most people experience in a lifetime. It all starts when she and her fiancé (Naveen Andrews) are beaten up in a vicious attack that leaves him dead and her close to it. Almost as soon as she gets out of the hospital, she wanders into a convenience store just moments before a hold-up. If that wasn’t enough, she’s soon taunted by a couple of knife-wielding thugs while riding home on the subway.

So who can blame her for taking the law into her own hands and becoming a gun-toting vigilante? After all, if the cops aren’t going to rise to the occasion and “wash all the scum off the streets” (as Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle so eloquently put it in 1976’s “Taxi Driver”), then someone has to do it.

The problem is that this is 2007, not 1976, and the streets of New York aren’t as scummy as they used to be. If anything, Times Square is more like Disneyland these days compared to the gritty urban hub of yesteryear. So when Foster’s character finds herself in harm’s way just a few too many times, the results feel a bit too contrived for the film to be taken as seriously as it wants to be.

But taken as a straight-ahead thriller, “The Brave One” fits the bill as a reasonably entertaining, well-acted crowd-pleaser. As directed by Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game”) from a screenplay by Roderick Taylor, Bruce Taylor and Cynthia Mort, it tightens the screws on the suspense with each passing scene, and Jodie Foster is at the top of her game with a riveting performance.

Actually, Foster’s presence is just one of the reasons why “The Brave One” is being compared to “Taxi Driver” (Foster, who was 13 years old at the time, played a hooker with a heart of gold in Martin Scorsese’s disturbing classic). But since she plays the host of an NPR-type radio show, she narrates the film in a way that can’t help but recall De Niro’s haunting voiceover from that earlier film.

The difference here is that Foster’s Erica Bain started out by having her act together in a big way. She had a great job, she was about to marry the love of her life, and she felt extremely comfortable roaming the streets of New York. It wasn’t until after the attack that her whole perspective changed, forcing her to take actions that even she could not believe she was doing.

By contrast, De Niro’s Travis Bickle was lost from the start. He was an unstable, disillusioned Vietnam vet who became increasingly disgusted by the ugliness and corruption around him until it pushed him over the edge. That’s why, if anything, “The Brave One” is more comparable to Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish,” which more or less just got the remake treatmenttwo weeks ago with Kevin Bacon’s equally effective, yet grossly underrated “Death Sentence.”

But Foster brings a level of credibility to her films (really, what would 2002’s “Panic Room” and 2005’s “Flight Plan” be like without her?), and that’s certainly the case with “The Brave One.” She makes a winning pair with Terrence Howard, who plays the NYPD detective who suspects that Foster might be the vigilante killer, while Nicky Katt is also effective as Howard’s partner, whose dry humor brings some welcome comic relief to the otherwise gritty proceedings.

Perhaps “The Brave One” would have been more realistic if it actually took place in the 70s, but seeing as how it taps into the fears that New Yorkers have been living with ever since 9/11, it’s still pretty relevant. And come to think of it, maybe the film isn’t that far-fetched after all, since that was one disaster that gave most people more trauma than they deserve to experience in a lifetime.

VERDICT: SEE IT!

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