Depth Wish

Salt Lake City Weekly | September 11, 2007
New York radio personality Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) has gone over to a dark place. The survivor of a brutal mugging in Central Park that left her fiancé David (Naveen Andrews) dead and herself comatose for nearly a month, Erica has become a virtual prisoner in her own apartment, so afraid to leave her building that we see the hallway appear to close in on her as she approaches the door. When she finally does make it to the street, every footstep, every person becomes a potential threat. So paranoid and terrified that she heads to the nearest gun store, she does what any paranoid and terrified woman would do when informed that there’s a 30-day waiting period for a gun to defend herself from creepy strangers: She follows a creepy stranger, who apparently deals in black-market weapons, down a dark alley.

Plenty of people will focus their disdain for The Brave One on its fairly blatant endorsement of vigilantism—and frankly, the movie will deserve it, for both its fascistic mind-set and its absurd posturing to the contrary. But regardless of your social politics, it warrants scorn for another perfectly valid reason: As serious dramas go, this one is almost unbearably stupid.

It begins, at least, with an idea that should be compelling. Utterly transformed by her violent ordeal, Erica struggles to find a way to continue a life that feels completely controlled by fear. Director Neil Jordan effectively conveys Erica’s topsy-turvy world, while the script—attributed to Roderick & Bruce Taylor and Cynthia Mort—hints at a grim cost to her soul for taking that black-market 9mm and becoming a dark angel of street justice.

But Erica’s improbable jaunt with her friendly neighborhood arms dealer is only the beginning of the film’s parade of inanities. It’s a horrible tragedy when an individual like Erica is present just once at the scene of a violent crime. The second time—when she’s in a convenience store where a crazy husband kills his wife—it’s like getting struck by lightning twice in the space of a week. And the third time—when Erica is threatened by subway thugs—it becomes obvious that screenwriters have simply affixed a huge lightning rod to the top of her head. This is completely separate from the leaps of logic that lead NYPD Det. Shaun Mercer (Terrence Howard) to begin suspecting Erica is the mysterious vigilante. Or the happy coincidence that, once Erica tries to hunt down her three attackers, she finds them all hanging out at the same building—and still with her stolen dog.

If you’re able to hold back smacking your own head in incredulity, you might then decide it’s worth smacking someone else. After playing with the notion that Erica can’t possibly emerge from her quest for vengeance psychologically intact, The Brave One ultimately builds to a whoop-‘em-up finale that clearly favors the purgative value of summary execution. A tagged-on voice-over coda insists that Erica will never be the same, but when she’s walking off into the rest of her life with her dog back, it’s hard not to gather that something ultimately positive is implied from the experience.

The shame of it is how much talent is wasted on something so thick-headed and mean-spirited. Terrence Howard is as talented an actor as you’ll find, but his character is a thankless one—a stereotypical divorced, disillusioned cop whose third-act personality shift violates his entire story function. Foster can be tremendously effective, but here she seems to be relying almost entirely on the pinched, wide-eyed expression—one she employed extensively through her ordeals in Panic Room and Flightplan—that makes her look like a 19th-century schoolmarm witnessing a barn fire. Though much has been made of the connection between this film and Foster’s role in Taxi Driver, it actually aims more for the intelligent tête-a-tête that anchored The Silence of the Lambs. When Howard and Foster connect, it provides a rare occasion in The Brave One when it feels like something real is going on.

But then all you need to do is wait a few minutes, and you’ll be returned to a world where there’s a psycho on every corner just begging to be taken down. The drama that could have been—a smart, complex study of feeling impotent in the face of evil—takes an idiotic walk down a dark alley with Erica, and never comes back.


** (two stars out of four)

Starring Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews.

Directed by Neil Jordan.

Rated R.

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