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The Reeler Blog

Braving the Elements

Jodie Foster, urban outlaw or The Brave One (Photo: Warner Bros.)

By S.T. VanAirsdale

Maybe it's just an overdramatic tendency, but I almost always get it wrong when I assume a film will polarize festival audiences. Case in point from Sundance: Great World of Sound, a thoroughly terrific film which nevertheless stops about one or two montage cuts shy of full-on exploitation (see for yourself when it opens Sept. 14 in New York). Others disagree, as I'm sure they'll disagree that The Brave One is among the year's more transgressive -- even guilty -- pleasures.

It's a fine turn from Jodie Foster as Erica Bain, a New York radio talk-show host-turned- vigilante out to avenge the beating death of her fiancé -- an attack she survived, recuperating over weeks and months. Terrence Howard portrays the detective who befriends her in one of a number of fairly implausible exchanges that suggest a parallel NYC of sorts: a place where fear, paranoia and, apparently, a systemic churn of angry-guy gun violence and police incompetence exacerbate Bain's psychic woe and Det. Mercer's allegiance to the law. Foster's illegal handgun pick-up leads to a bloody spree of self-defense that defy the odds of bad luck; it's a delusional, get-'em grudge fantasia owing equally to Taxi Driver, Death Wish and Dirty Harry. "Someone is out there killing in the name of justice," Bain tells her audience with subdued glee, "in this, the safest big city in the world."

Bain's payback matters only inasmuch as director Neil Jordan allows it to haunt her: his floating, canted-angled camera serves as an unsettling point of entry to The Brave One's post-9/11 dream state, where people dread everything from neighbors to "white powder in their mailboxes." Revenge is, in fact, something of a destiny for Erica Bain, and despite a histrionic burp or five ("You left a hole in me!" she laments to the specter of her dead lover), Foster's self-actualized aggressor is a brilliantly authentic New York figure. Without giving too much away, the complex superheroic DNA that supported the Dirty Harry and Death Wish (maybe even the Bourne) franchises could similarly fuel a run of Brave One films. Really.

To do so, however, the city would have to reattain its '70s urban-hell mythology -- a pitched moral battle that would compromise three decades of economic resurgence and symbolic appeal. The question is not whether or not killing killers is justified, but rather whether or not New York is in a condition that demands such answers. Put to Bain's listeners in an otherwise facile sequence onscreen, reaction is mixed. Bain and Mercer's conclusions are not as ambiguous, and I can only hope the same is true of the film's actual response when it opens next week.

Posted at September 7, 2007 2:40 PM

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