The Brave One (review)

Jodie Got a Gun

What the hell? When did vigilantism come back into style, become something all the cool kids were into? I mean, sheesh: You invade one measly little Middle Eastern country on trumped up evidence and out of a misguided desire for vengeance and all of a sudden America is the land of Shoot First At Whomever Pisses You Off And Don’t Even Bother To Ask Any Questions Later? Brother.
My first instinct was to liken The Brave One, Neil Jordan’s (Breakfast on Pluto, The Good Thief) wildly and weirdly misbegotten wronged-chick-on-rampage drama, to the recent Death Sentence, but you know what? That other movie, idiotic and preposterous as it was, at least had its own sense of internal consistency right. If you were Kevin Bacon and you lived in a world where the district attorneys laugh in your face regarding the prospects of bringing to justice your beloved son’s murderer, and the cops — the cops — tell you “God help you” when you ask for their help, well, sure, the sensible thing to do would be to arm yourself to the teeth and clean up the mean streets of your post-Mad Max-apocalypse hometown. That’s simply logical.

But The Brave One? It reminds us, actually reminds us, more than once, that New York is the safest big city in the world. (It’s true!) It has Jodie Foster’s (Inside Man, Flightplan) Erica Bain — get it? like “bane”? — deliberately refusing to identify a suspect the very nice and competent gentlemen of the NYPD have in custody in the horrific beating death of her beloved fiancé, in an attack that also grievously wounded her. Why? Because even though the chances of making this thug pay in the civilized manner — by getting his ass thrown in jail for a good long time, with all the proper paperwork signed in triplicate — appear to be pretty damn high, Erica wants to take out the thug’s ass herself.

Why? Well, she’s in pain, dammit. (Waaaait a sec, maybe that’s another layer of metaphor in her name. Bain = pain?) She was engaged to Naveen Andrews (Grindhouse, Provoked: A True Story), for pity’s sake, and he’s, like, really, really hot and has a cool British accent and everything. She’s flipped, been pushed over an edge, has lost a few marbles, something like that.

Except we don’t feel that. Erica buys a gun off the street and starts picking off random bad guys who just coincidentally happen to run into her at every turn. She pops into a convenience store and in walks a crazy guy with a gun. She rides the subway and all of a sudden here are some menacing black dudes. Seems she can’t go anywhere in the city where there ain’t some asshole who desperately needs a bullet or three in the chest. It’s ridiculous: this simply is not New York City. The city simply is not this dangerous. It’s an absurd caricature inside what wants to be a “realistic” exploration of why a nice girl from the Upper West Side would turn into a gunslinger dealing out her own brand of justice.

So what’s going on? There’s the barest hint of a slender suggestion that Erica is deliberately putting herself in harm’s way so she’ll have an excuse to blow some muthafucka’s head off, but that possibility is forgotten as soon as it’s raised. There’s some talk by Erica — who hosts her own radio show, a thinky NPR-type affair, not a raucous Rush Limbaugh thing — about how one’s perception of the city can change and suddenly everything seems dark and perilous. But we never feel it. All sense of Erica’s internal anguish is muted, and that’s all we might have had to work with. She flips from being repulsed at the thought of her crimes to picking the gun right back up again, and we never see the inner turmoil that is driving her, that might make us understand that it’s okay, in a story sense, for her to run so hot and cold.

But mostly cold. The Brave One is sterile and icy and lazy when it wants to be hot and furious and tortured. The only time the movie approaches making us feel anything hot is when Erica is wearing a leather jacket in New York in July — now that’s crazy. Though the ending is enough to get you steamed, too, with its hearty slap on the back for Erica and for itself. Hoorah for vigilantism! Who needs the rule of law when you’ve got guns?

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