Note: In the following joint review, both John and Jason comment on the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.
The Movie According to John:
Jodie Foster seems to be carving out a nifty niche and reinventing herself as an action hero. Who'da thunk? After "Silence of the Lambs" in 1991 she returned to more subdued drama, but since 2005 her last three major films have been "Panic Room," "Flightplan," and "Inside Man." Now, it's 2007's "The Brave One." Move over Harrison, Bruce, Chuck, Arnold, Steven, Jackie, Jet, and the rest of the macho crowd. Jodie's back in town! So, what's next? Jodie Foster action figures? Trading cards? Video games?
You can't blame her. Such films sell, and the rather deceiving juxtaposition of her sweet, innocent little appearance and her outright toughness, daring, and determination seems to be a winning combination, especially among feminists and men who appreciate strong female leads. I mean, look what "Alien" did for Sigourney Weaver.
Anyway, when I originally heard about this picture, the first thing that crossed my mind was that it was going to be another Charlie Bronson "Death Wish" clone, only with a change of gender. Wrong. While it uses a similar premise, "The Brave One" is far more thoughtful and, for me, far more entertaining. It won't take any honors or awards, but insofar as action thrillers go, which are generally in a pretty dumb genre, this one at least produces moments of reflection.
Here's the setup: When muggers beat her to a pulp and murder her fiancé (Naveen Andrews), and the New York City police appear helpless to do anything about it, Erica Bain (Foster) decides to take matters into her own hands. Yet this is no mere revenge picture as one might expect. It's not about the killings; it's about the effect the killing of her fiancé has on Erica and the effect of the killings that follow that constitute the bulk of the story. So it's not so much an action thriller as it is a psychological thriller. But you might have guessed that from Foster's presence in it; she chooses her scripts carefully.
Foster also has the good fortune to have Neil Jordan directing her. Jordan's previous films have shown that he can take ordinary material and elevate it to a higher level. Remember "Mona Lisa," "The Crying Game," "Interview With the Vampire," and "Michael Collins"? He has a penchant in this film for too much flashy camera work (a lot of movement, a lot of twirling shots, a lot of quick cuts embellishing the story), but at the same time he injects a suitable note of melancholy and deliberation into the proceedings, all the while maintaining his patented shadowy, somber, noirish tone.
I found the hospital scenes quite moving, Erica's pain and suffering seeming genuine and her grief afterwards affecting. Although there is a heavy-handed pop song that breaks in on the mood several times and tends to strike a sudsy note, most of the film preserves a strong, serious atmosphere.
We see early on that Erica is a sensitive person, a radio essayist. She is a commentator with her own social-consciousness program called "Street Walk." So she is no ordinary helpless, thoughtless heroine. When she buys a gun and begins prowling the streets, we feel her anger, her anxiety, and her regret at what she's doing.
Then the story introduces a new character, Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard), who is investigating a series of murders that all appear related. The newspapers have dubbed the killer a vigilante, and the killings have divided the populace on whether the killer is a criminal or a hero. Mercer is a decent, honest man trying to do his job as best he can, and in the role Howard is a comforting presence. A bit of the character's personal life reveals, however, that he may not be entirely above bending the law on occasion, and his interaction with Erica forms the crux of the story.
Before long, the movie becomes a treatise on fear, people living in fear of the culture around them. As Erica begins her new sideline, is she purposely looking for trouble? As she asks herself, "Am I finding them, or are they finding me?" Is she helping society, is she hurting society, or is she only helping or hurting herself? Is Erica beginning to enjoy her vigilante justice, or is it destroying her inside? Is she still herself at all, or as she imagines, is she someone else, a stranger?
Finally, the film brings up an age-old question: When is breaking the law the "right" thing to do? Never? Ever? Sometimes? Is there "a thin, fragile line between right and wrong?" as Erica asks.
Even though the plot of "The Brave One" tends to escalate into the improbable, Foster and Howard put in such intense performances and Jordan creates such vivid, lifelike settings that one tends to forget how melodramatic all of it is. The movie never seems entirely plausible. Yet it makes no difference; we still get involved with it.
John's Film Rating: 7/10.
The Film According to Jason:
The thread of duality which runs through "The Brave One" extends from Erica Bain, as played by Jodie Foster, to the audience. On the one hand, the radio show host knows her vigilante actions are wrong; but on the other, a part of her needs to make the streets safer for even one person after watching her fiancé (Naveen Andrews) get beat to death. That's the dichotomy which plagues Bain in the second half of the film, bringing out a Jekyll and Hyde of sorts.
It's not as if Bain enjoys the killing. To call her a vigilante is a disservice to the character. A vigilante, in pop culture terms, is someone like Batman, who purposely walks the streets looking for people who break the law. Batman patrols the night, making Gotham City safer than it would be otherwise. Bain isn't Batman: the criminals she guns down attack her first. Most are killed in self defense; the others in revenge. But a vigilante, as she is dubbed by the film itself? Nope.
One has to wonder, though, how a woman who has lived in New York City for any length of time has avoided any semblance of crime for so long, yet runs into instance after instance in quick succession. A case can be made that she kept to safe locales previously and never put herself into hazardous positions. Maybe it is the added security she feels by wielding a weapon and having used it before.
Or maybe watching David (Andrews) get bludgeoned to death has made her immune to being scared for herself. "The Brave One" is a movie in which a fair number of questions are asked--questions we might ask ourselves in the same situation--but none are really answered definitively. To answer those questions would be to get inside Erica Bain's head, to let her be more personal, more open than the story itself wants to allow.
Bain takes an interest in the police investigation of the people she's killed to see what law enforcement has found out, not out of any journalistic obligation. Along the way, she befriends Terrence Howard's Mercer, a cop who despises the thought of someone doing his job--getting rid of the bad guys--for him. Not once does he question her inquisitiveness, even though he knows what type of radio show she has. It's a "sounds of the city" show in which Bain tells stories--coupled with audio--that she comes across. Why would this woman, herself a victim of a crime, be interested in his work? He arrives at the conclusion far too late, as is customary in these types of movies.
This is Jodie Foster's movie, with all due respect to Howard and Andrews. They both add different shades and personalities (i.e., male sensibilities) to the film, but "The Brave One" is Foster's to make or break. It should be no shock, then, that she delivers from start to finish. Whatever emotion she's projecting--elation early on to quiet resolve near the end--it's impossible to take your eyes off her performance. She's so slight in build you almost want to hold her and promise everything will be all right. Then in a flash she turns into someone to fear, someone who is going to protect us.
Mercer's partner, a cop played by Nicky Katt, is completely forgettable and disposable. His only function in the film is to make smart-ass comments while Mercer does the actual work. He's the only unneeded character in the film.
There are small scenes throughout the movie that don't make a lot of sense, though. After the attack, David's mother visits her in the hospital, never to be seen again. Ditto for a friend of Erica's. She phones once and shouts on the street one more time…and then drops out of the movie. You would think a friend would be more insistent on making sure everything was all right, doubly so since Erica doesn't have family in the area.
Another scene comes fairly soon after. Mercer talks to his ex-wife in a bar regarding a case he's working on. He implores her to help a young girl pro bono. She refuses. End of scene. What did that possibly set up, besides the fact that Mercer is divorced? That he has a heart? A tease of a relationship with Erica? In a film where everything builds on top of itself in order to add layers to the story, these scenes seem to be superfluous.
None of that can take away from the dual story "The Brave One" wants to tell. A women driven to be something she isn't. A proverbial angel and devil sitting on her shoulders, enticing her to their side. Foster doesn't have to speak the words to convey the message, her magnificent blue eyes show us what she's feeling at all times. She continues to show why she doesn't need to make three movies a year or star in big-budget summer spectacles to reaffirm her spot alongside male contemporaries Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks as exceptional actors.
"The Brave One" isn't easy to watch due to its high quotient of violence and blood. Its engaging and riveting star overcomes both of those issues. Even though the eventual ending is a bit of a jumble, the movie deserves a recommendation.
Jason's Film Rating: 7/10.
What you have to understand about reviewing the picture quality of any movie on DVD is trying to determine what the film looked like in a theater and how it shows up on disc. I rather think that much of what viewers complain about in video quality is inherent to the original print, which is why I try to go out to the movies as much as possible and get a feeling for the reference. The video on "The Brave One" looks pretty much as I remember from the theater.
Warner Bros. have transferred the movie to disc in its intended aspect ratio, 2.40:1, and they use a high bit rate and anamorphic processing to ensure that it will look good on widescreen TVs. But here's the thing: The director intended the film to look dark, even the indoor shots, so the original print was somewhat dim and murky. Sure, the standard-definition reproduction probably isn't as sharp as the original print, but we have to expect that. So, the result is a trifle soft and dusky. Still, colors are good, with natural skin tones, and while the screen is remarkably clean, there is a fine film grain that provides the picture with a realistic texture.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack also does its part in providing the movie with a realistic feeling. Here, we find a wide front-channel stereo spread; a well-balanced sonic spectrum; good dynamic impact; reasonably good depth of image; and an exceptionally smooth frequency response. The audio engineers use the surround channels with some subtlety, mostly for ambient musical bloom, but when necessary the rears and/or sides come through with shattering authority.
The disc comes with two major extras. The first is a pretty typical making-of featurette, "I Walk the City." It's twenty-one minutes long and takes us behind the scenes with the director, the filmmakers, and the stars. The second item is a series of five additional scenes, lasting nearly seven minutes total. Both extras are in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Along with the two primary bonuses there are several trailers at start-up only for other Warner Bros. releases; thirty-one scene selections but no chapter insert; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Jodie Foster may be making more action-oriented films these days, but they always show a degree of class that distinguishes them from other entries in the genre. "The Brave One" is no exception. It is pure melodrama, to be sure, yet with Foster and Howard starring and Jordan directing, it manages to add thematic elements one can reflect upon as well. As I said earlier, I found it highly entertaining.