Brainflow Feed

That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, they revolve mostly around films.)

The Brave One

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008 8:52 pm—Film

The Brave One (USA/Australia 2007, Crime/Drama/Thriller), Writers: Roderick Taylor and Bruce A. Taylor; Director: Neil Jordan

Jodie Foster was my childhood idol. I thought she hung the moon. In junior high, I turned my best friend, SM, onto her after my Grade 7 presentation on the actor. (I might have traumatized my other classmates by showing clips from The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs; maybe that explains the subsequent “field trips” to the ROH…) Anyway, after that SM and I started renting a lot of Foster’s earlier work. I loved her strength and intelligence, and the attention to detail she gave each of her characters. I can’t think of anyone else quite like her in the industry.

These days it seems that Foster has largely retreated from acting, stepping out only now and then to make an appearance in commercial fare to bring home the bacon. Not that I blame her. Who wouldn’t want to spend most of their time enjoying a personal life (not to mention a professional life on the other side of the camera), and then resurface every couple years to capitalize on their reputation and considerable talents to rake in a cool million or ten? Still, it doesn’t mean that fans like myself don’t miss the caliber of Foster’s earlier films.

All this to say that I really didn’t like The Brave One. I recently rented it because Foster was starring, and because it’s directed by The Crying Game’s Neil Jordan, so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. And yet…

I disliked the film from the get-go. It begins with an over-zealous attempt to sell us on just how very much in love New Yorkers Erica Bain (Foster) and her fiancé David Kirmani (Naveen Andrews) are. And then, quite quickly, the couple leads us down the garden path to a brutal attack in Central Park that leaves David dead and Erica in a coma.

When she awakens, Erica struggles to return to the life she used to lead. But she finds it impossible, and sets out on a quest for vigilante justice. Along the way, she befriends Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard), the cop who is investigating her crimes.

In my review of 3:10 to Yuma (see the 3:10 to Yuma review from September 2007), I referred to the benefits of bringing a director with a history of more “sensitive” films to the action movie genre. It worked in 3:10 to Yuma. It doesn’t work in The Brave One. Rather than bringing a human touch to the excitement of a thriller, The Brave One is left somewhere in no-man’s land; it’s neither poignant and sensitive, nor exciting.

One example of this failed merger occurs just after Erica and David have been attacked. As the medical team handles their bodies and removes their clothing, we cut back and forth to the couple making love, caressing those same body parts and removing clothing in a very different context. It should work; it’s a beautiful concept, a stark contrast. But it just doesn’t. The first cut to the love-making is confusing and feels out of place. It was too early in the film for me to believe in their all-consuming love and to feel a sense of loss at the end of their relationship. But mostly, the camera direction and editing weren’t very good.

In fact, the direction was disappointing throughout the film. The attack in Central Park was badly done; it was so unconvincing that I was actually able to watch it all without covering my eyes. After Erica recovers physically from the attack, Jordan chose to convey her confusion and inner turmoil by tilting the camera at dizzying angles. Wheeeee! Nothing says character development like tossing the camera back and forth.

I’ll leave the direction alone now and move on to the story itself. Erica hosts a radio show about New York. After the attack, she begins to reflect on-air about reports of her own crimes, and eventually takes questions and comments from listeners. Erica’s ponderings and self-analysis come off as contrived, adding to the film’s self-consciousness.

The concept of a woman turning to violence after being horribly assaulted calls to mind Patty Jenkins’ 2003 film Monster, with Charlize Theron playing real-life prostitute turned serial killer Aileen Wuornos. Monster is much more convincing than The Brave One in many ways, but the biggest one for me is the transition the film’s leading characters go through. Played phenomenally by Theron, Wuornos doesn’t stand back and analyze her actions or motives the way that Erica does. Violence against men is the only way she knows how to respond to the horrific violence that was committed against her. It seems genuine and believable, although disturbing and tragically sad. But with Erica’s process, it feels as if she’s holding the viewer’s hand, explaining herself through voice-overs and radio scripts just in case we couldn’t make the leap ourselves.

All of this adds up to The Brave One coming across as silly; just another blatant vigilante justice film that fails to add anything new to the dialogue about when right is wrong and wrong is right.

And if that wasn’t enough, there are a couple of oddly-placed references to the Iraq war. Are we supposed to draw a link to Bush’s “lawful” violence and the “vigilante” justice the terrorists are forging? Is the attack on Erica meant to represent the 2001 attack on the city itself? I don’t have a problem with drawing that parallel, but it can’t be accomplished with two asides about Iraq. Better to leave it out entirely.

Foster and Howard are excellent actors, and it’s worthwhile watching them in action. But if you’re looking for great performances and great movies all in one, see Foster in The Silence of the Lambs, The Accused, Taxi Driver or Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (among others). And for Howard, it doesn’t get any better than Hustle & Flow: “You know it’s hard out here for a pimp/When he’s tryin to get his money for the rent/For the Cadillacs and gas money spent/There’s a whole lotta bitches jumpin ship.”

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