Review of “The Brave One”

Jodie Foster’s latest movie, The Brave One, has everything you’d expect from a high-quality revenge thriller: teeth-gritting tension, stellar acting and a taut story, plus some hefty moral dilemmas to balance out the visceral gunplay. But it departs from the typical vigilante story line in ways that belie its mass-market appeal.

First and most obviously, this time the urban warrior is a woman. Second, though the questions fall at a rate to rival the body count, the film offers no solutions, favoring the how over the why.

Warning: Minor Spoilers

Erica Bain (Foster) is the host of a public radio show called Street Walk. She records the sounds of New York as a way of monitoring the city’s evolution, capturing changes in the landscape in an effort to show how they reflect ripples in the larger culture. This theme of recording and analyzing — though never quite fully developed — establishes a state of being that is once removed, a way of life in which events are realized by commentary rather than experience.

Early on, Erica says, “I’m a voice, not a face.” When she is preparing or performing her radio show, she moves through and floats over the city without really interacting with it.

Despite this meta-existence, Erica is also earthy: She is cheerful, in love, comfortable in her own skin. She and her fiancé, David (Naveen Andrews of Lost), do simple, happy things like walk their dog in Central Park, eat apples and plan their wedding. But things get even simpler — in the sense of reduced, stripped — when she and David are attacked by thugs.

In a few brutal minutes, her self-sufficiency and slight detachment flatten into basic loss and fear. Images of the beating are juxtaposed with scenes of Erica and David making love and dancing; flesh that yielded pleasure now reveals its potential for pain.

After her recovery, Erica faces an even more staggering revelation. Her fiancé is dead, her dog is gone, and her own fear nearly paralyzes her — until she discovers what she calls the “stranger” inside. She begins to follow the stranger’s impulses, even though they confound her. She buys a gun and makes vengeance her master.

Erica soon learns her own capacity for violence and cruelty, recording her evolution as she did the city’s. But she is unable to analyze her own transformations; she can no longer observe without acting.

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