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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

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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MPAA: rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
  • PaulW

    You might notice a lot of vigilante films came out just as Vietnam was winding down. Death Wish, Dirty Harry, any number of z-grade drive-thru thrillers. When you have a numbed populus, disconnected (and sadistic) political leadership no longer worthy of trust, a nation divided and raging against itself, malaise and unease about our place in the world… BOOM! Shoot up some bad guys who got what’s comin’ to ’em. And you have to KNOW these are bad guys who got what’s comin’ to ’em, so they got to be as scuzzy and wicked and vicious as possible.

  • El Canucko

    Yup. Saw the trailers for this one and [i]Death Sentence[/i] and thought to myself, “Wow, there’s a couple of stinkbombs.”

    On a totally unrelated note, I’m gettng hyped about Stephen King’s [i]The Mist[/i]. When I first heard it was being made into a film, I groaned because we all know the history of book-to-film King adaptations. That is, until I found out it was adapted and directed by Frank Darabont. He’s done good by King so far.

  • El Canucko

    Er, that shoulda been Death Sentence and The Mist.

  • Russ

    As a New York city resident, I’m sure Mary Ann is on the money in her comments. It would’ve been so much cooler had Jodie opted to do a remake of Abel Ferrara’s more daring Ms. 45 film. Jodie’s film role choices of the last 10 years (including this one) have been hugely disappointing, since TBO is essentially a B movie, as the Flight Plan film also was. It’s obvious Neil Jordan only directed this as a paycheck film, as he hasn’t done anything perceived as ‘commercial’ for several years. I was surprised Roger Ebert (in his TBO review) overpraised it, while thinking much less of the Death Sentence film.

  • good work skewering this movie’s insane vision of NYC.
    If NY were ANYTHING like what we see in this movie I woulda been dead a long time ago.

    only one persons even looked funny at my iPod. ;)

    ANYWAY. terrible movie. it makes no damn sense and it has not one ambiguous moment. she’s always in kill or be killed situations so her “guilt” as lazily portrayed as it is is hardly worth getting so teary about.

    worst of all –the movie pretends that she should feel guilty about the killings when they’re selfdefense AND the movie ignores her actual grievous sins (like the one you mentioned: rejecting the rule of law even when it’s actually working!)

  • MBI

    Erica Bain — get it? like “bane”?

    My interpretation: Erica Bain: Rhymes with America pain.

    My problem with the goofy, trashy Death Sentence was that it wanted to say that killing is wrong and tarnishes the soul. But it didn’t believe in the message — it made Kevin Bacon look too badass.

    But I have to agree, Death Sentence sure looks good in the rearview compared to this turd. I was thinking I was gonna disagree with you halfway through the movie, but then that horrible ending came, and it dropped from passable to one of the worst movies of the year. The Brave One also believes that murder tarnishes the soul, but so the fuck what? At least in Death Sentence there were avoidable and regrettable consequences of the revenge killings. In The Brave One apparently all that’s wrong with killing is that it’ll make a rich white woman feel bad.

  • You know, I really don’t get why they didn’t simply set it in some actual crime-ridden city, like Baltimore or Detroit.

  • MaryAnn

    No, no, it’s supposed to be about perception of crime versus the reality of a pretty safe city — Erica feels threatened, but it’s mostly in her head. The problem is, the movie then says, Well, gee, as long as you *feel* threatened, it’s okay to do whatever you want, because, er– well, the movie never gets around to justifying that.

  • Nathaniel’s complaints about the film’s attempt to find ambiguity in kill-or-be-killed situations reminds me of my past complaints about “A History of Violence.” That film also provoked a lot of rhetoric about the nature of violence in America–and yet it too was as simplistic as this film seems to be.

    Oh, well, we all see what we want to see…

    However, I’ve actually known people who have committed acts of violence–and yet I live in the suburbs (heh, irony)–and just once I’d like to see Hollywood get it right.

  • MaryAnn

    Man o man, I have lived in New York City for all of my adult life, and I have seen a drawn gun precisely once: and it was in the hand of a cop who was arresting someone in Times Square. The closest I have ever gotten to a gun is via a friend who’s a state trooper — I know she’s frequently packing even when she’s off duty, and still I’ve never even seen her weapon — I just mostly just wonder where the hell she’s hiding it when she’s wearing nothing but shorts and a t-shirt.

    I live in the Bronx. I ride the subways at all hours of the day and night. The ONLY time I have EVER heard actual gunshots was in rural Tennessee, when they woke me up early in the morning. It was hunters, most likely, but still.

    my past complaints about “A History of Violence.”

    I dunno what those complaints were, but I do think there’s a huge chasm of difference between the two films. HoV is about someone who was steeped in a culture of violence and tried to escape it — this one is about someone with little experience of violence who suddenly starts finding it goddamn everywhere, and implausibly so. Hardly the same thing at all.

  • MBI

    Actually, I don’t think the comparison is that far off. I hadn’t thought about the connection between the two movies before, but now that it’s come up, comparing the two films seems like it’d be very instructive in illustrating where The Brave One fails. I mean, they’re both ambiguous about the use of lethal force, in that it has check-it-out awesome killing-the-bad-guy scenes but neither’s main character seems to feel good about it afterward. But here’s the difference:

    1) In A History of Violence (and even in the looking-much-better-in-hindsight Death Sentence), much of the violence is entirely the protagonist’s fault. Thus Viggo does not have the aura of self-righteousness which Jodie is able to retain. It’s not Jodie’s fault she killed those guys, they attacked first after all.

    2) A History of Violence has way better violence. It retains a sense morality just by not being gutless in showing the ugly, nasty carnage of it all. Like how Saving Private Ryan without the gore and splatter would have been just another cliched old war movie. What I’m saying is A History of Violence has a pair and The Brave One does not. If they showed her actually beating that guy to death with a crowbar, I would have respected it way more.

    3) Both protagonists essentially get away with it, but A History of Violence plays that as a sad, haunting scene — almost a miscarriage of justice. When The Brave One ends, it actually does condone Jodie’s actions. And like MaryAnn said, it doesn’t come close to giving a reason why such a thing (which is legitimately a miscarriage of justice) could possibly be condoned.

    I was legitimately shocked by how much I dislike this movie.

  • MaryAnn

    Another major difference about HoV is that it exists within the realm of organized crime, where those offended or victimized have no choice but to deal with the offender themselves — mobsters can hardly go to the police when they have grievances with one another.

    I’m not condoning organized crime, of course, just pointing out that there is an internal consistency to HoV that BO lacks.

  • Ben

    I find that the Flick Filosopher’s review makes a lot of assumptions about what the filmmaker’s intentions were, and also reads a lot of things into the movie that just aren’t there.

    I never got the impression that the filmmaker’s wanted the audience to think that Erica’s behavior was okay, and I don’t think that they even wanted her to be a sympathetic character.

    If anything I think that the film was trying to remain detached – neither for nor against vigilante violence – and that the distorted vision of New York was supposed to represent what the character sees inside her head (compare the later scenes in the movie to the earlier ones in the movie before the murder traumatises her – the city comes across very differently, and is shot in a VERY different style, something that the Flick Filosopher neglected to mention in her review)

    But then again, I’m an Aussie, so what do I know, right?

  • MaryAnn

    It has nothing to do with you being Australian, probably, Ben, but you obviously didn’t read my review closely enough. I *do* indeed deal with the things you say I don’t, such as here:

    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.

    And of course I’m making assumptions about the filmmaker’s intentions. So are you. So is everyone who talks about art.

  • MBI

    “I never got the impression that the filmmaker’s wanted the audience to think that Erica’s behavior was okay, and I don’t think that they even wanted her to be a sympathetic character.”

    If Erica’s behavior was not meant to be okay, they wouldn’t have given us that horseshit ending, and if they didn’t want her to be sympathetic, they shouldn’t have made all her victims such worthless scumbags.

  • Ben Orchard

    Mary-Ann, I reread you review and looked over my previous post… you’re right, I misread your review and my comments were out of line. I apologise.

    Still, I can’t help but be baffled, looking over your website and seeing the largely complimentary reviews of Neil Jordan’s other work – work which features similarly morally-suspect main characters: terrorists, thieves, vampires… I guess I was puzzled as to why you weren’t as similarly disturbed by these movies as with “The Brave One”

    Where exactly did you think Jordan put his foot wrong this time – that you felt he empathised too much with this character, as opposed to say Bob from “The Good Thief”?

  • MaryAnn

    It’s not that morally suspect protagonists are automatically unworthy of our sympathy — clearly, there are many less than ideal protagonists whom we like a lot, and that’s fine. There’s a huge degree of difference between a story that says, “Here’s a guy/girl who’s dodgy but fascinating” and one that says, “Here’s a guy/girl who’s entirely justified in being dodgy yet is actually quite dull and not particularly believable in his/her dodginess, but that’s okay because the justification is what you should be looking at.”

    I think you can tell into which category I think this movie falls into.

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