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Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Brave One

Last week when I wrote about my erstwhile shirttail relatives (by marriage, as I keep reminding those who fret about the possible genetic implications to me personally), I apparently stirred up quite a hornets’ nest of upset about my story that gave new meaning to the words “pet-food”. Several people seemed to think that I was somehow advocating the idea of turning kids’ household puppies and kittens into lunchtime treats, and that just isn’t so. Just because I pointed out that someone else had done such a dire deed does not make me an advocate for it. I hesitate to think what those same people are going to say this time around as we chat about the latest new release at the Essex Cinemas. It’s called The Brave One, and it is all about vigilantism.

As I write this tonight I am in a hotel room in New York City, only a few hundred yards from Times Square, where The Brave One opens with star Jodie Foster, as public radio essayist Erica Bain, is seen using her microphone to record sounds for her weekly show, called “Street Walk.” In some ways I feel that Erica is the epitome of a trilogy of women characters Foster has been working to build over the past few years, first with Panic Room, and then with Flight Plan, and now culminating here as the “finished” product of a struggle for the good and moral feminist to finally shed her own ethical code and say “What the hell?” and join the good ol’ boys she loved to loathe. Instead of transcending above the likes of men like those played by Charles Bronson, Sly Stallone, or Jason Stratham, Foster has seen the light ~ or at least their point of view ~ and shaped it into something with more meaning and nuance than any of these stars before her.

Let’s face it. Jodie Foster can’t make a bad movie. Well, okay, she came close with Sommersby, but that was as much the fault of director Jon Amiel who was daft enough to cast Foster and Richard Gere as would-be lovers in a Civil War weepie. He’d have been better off casting a gerbil in Jodie’s role if he wanted to generate any sexual tension between Gere and his co-star. Doctors still use Sommersby as a tool to induce coma as needed, but that hasn’t really got much to do with this story.
In The Brave One, Foster is living one of those charmed lives only people in movies lead right before the fecal matter is flung into the rotating air cooling device, if you know what I mean. She has a great job, a swell apartment, a hot fiancé ("and he’s even a doctor", as my mother would be quick to point out), and they go to avant garde art openings and hang out in trendy places. Naturally, tragedy must strike suddenly, and it does.

Erica and her fiancé David (Naveen Andrews of tv’s “Lost”) are brutally attacked one night while out walking their dog and David is killed. It is weeks before Erica even regains consciousness, and when she does, she is obviously a changed woman.

What follows in the next hour-and-a-half is a seemingly preposterous story of a woman who goes from frightened victim, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and uncontrollable grief to one who through an accident of fate finds she can shoot to kill when the need (way too conveniently) arises, and then discovers she has a taste for it. What was supposed to be about self-protection (her getting a gun) grows into nighttime patrols of unsafe neighborhoods looking for trouble (and thugs to put on ice), followed by the eventual confidence to go out stalking specific people, including, of course, the men responsible for David’s murder. She turns into her own version of Wonder Woman with a nasty grudge.

Complicating all of this is Terrence Howard (The Hunting Party; ironically co-starring Foster's koiss of death co-star Richard Gere) as Detective Mercer, a world-weary cop with a long vendetta of his own he’s been working on. He has spent years trying to bring down a slick mob-connected politico with a Crest smile and a perfect made-for-tv image. This Teflon demeanor is what has kept him out of jail even though he obviously put a bullet through his wife’s head at close range and managed to convince the police and the press to call it a suicide. Needless to say, Mercer has his own demons, and if he wasn’t a cop, he might be straddling that very line Erica just crossed.

What ensues is a taut tale of not just cat-and-mouse, but also of empathy, seduction, admiration, and concern as both parties get to know one another on many levels. Detective Mercer is intrigued by Erica’s seeming ability to recover from the horrific events of her life and he admires her tenacity. Erica is attracted to his resolve and dedication at putting evil-doers behind bars. She, obviously, does not see herself in that category. In fact, as she comes to terms with her ability to kill she sees it less as a shocking aberration than as a gift to the city she loves, and so she does it with the drive that would make Bernard Goetz, wherever he may be, soil himself in euphoric ecstasy.

Foster and Howard are a hot non-couple and it shows. They tango around one another in ways that are primal in a sexual way without the single flash of skin or nuzzling of necks. They *know* one another’s souls as the film progresses towards a surprising “will-he-or-won’t-he” climax through the looks in their eyes, the innuendo in their words, the “chess moves” in their game that is meant to stall but not end the other’s play. A single accidental brush of the hand has more sexual energy in it than most steamy X-rated porn flicks. Yowza.

Clearly, the death toll in The Brave One is extreme, but the point of showing any runaway power requires highlighting its’ excessiveness, and Foster illustrates the delusional self-confidence that so many in this country seem to have once they have a gun in their hands. It’s enough to make you understand why gun control legislation is never passed, but it is also enough to make you understand exactly why it should be; maybe The Brave One in this movie isn’t Jodie Foster’s Erica Bain but is actually director Neil Jordan (Breakfast on Pluto) who is able to show both sides without flinching. He and Foster have done a great job, and The Brave One is a rocking suspense thriller as well as a subliminal look at the subconscious of the American psyche.

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