Major spoilers ahead
If you think that you’ve already seen Jodie Foster play a part like Erica in The Brave One, there might be a grain of truth in your sentiment: Foster has previously cornered the market (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse) on playing damaged women pushed to their absolute limits, often in extraordinary situations.
Foster’s multiple takes on the archetypal female victim who manages to overcome insurmountable odds has won her two Oscars and made her one of the only true box office forces of her age bracket. Erica is one of the actresses’ most full-blooded creations to date that can stand alongside similarly solid turns like her Sarah Tobias in The Accused, and the iconic Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs.
While Irish director Neil Jordan (Interview with a Vampire, The Crying Game) doesn’t usually work in this contemporary American milieu, he is able to capture a fresh, contemporary New York City, where Erica’s story takes place, in its vivacious, seething glory.
“I walk the city”, states Foster’s radio talk show personality (in a voice over that begins cheesy, but eventually finds a steady rhythm and a heart). Indeed, Erica’s life revolves around her experiences of being a New Yorker and running across a veritable stable of all sorts of quirky city dwellers. Mainly, though, her life is perfect: she is engaged to David (Lost’s Naveen Andrews, whose chemistry with Foster is hot), a doctor who dotes on her. They are one of those couples that you want to hate because they are just so perfect.
As much as you might want to hate them or are sickened by their magazine-ad lifestyle, the horrifying incident that happens (at the beginning of the film) to the couple is not something you would wish on your worst enemy. In one of the worst cases of cinematic bad timing I have seen, Erica and David’s seemingly mundane walk in Central Park with their dog turns nightmarish when they run afoul of some street punks who are out to cause trouble.
When things get out of hand, a fight breaks out, and when all is said and done, David is killed and Erica is left in a coma for three weeks. The vicious beating scene is enough to make viewers turn away in disgust, and this can’t possibly be an accident; the filmmakers must want their audience to understand the brutality of a crime like this has an everlasting effect on its victims.
In a bold move, shot by the great cinematographer Phillipe Rousselot with urgency, Jordan chooses to weave together shots of the bloodied, dying couple being brought into the ER as they are clinically worked over with a tender, erotic love scene. While Foster has never really been one to play sexy convincingly (or at all, for that matter), her openness as a performer during this brief encounter is not only surprising, but also a little bit brave.
With the face and body of a real woman over 40, Foster is unafraid of letting the camera see her imperfections, which are few and far between. The woman gets better with age; in every way. This is the actresses’ least self-conscious performance, her most assured, and her most relaxed – despite the heavy subject matter.
After awakening, Erica begins to exhibit signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the film follows her journey into the dark recesses of the mind in the aftermath of tragedy. As she deals with an uncaring police force, which could care less about her predicament as they feed her stock lines like the galling “be patient”, Erica is smart enough to realize that she will never get the results she needs for closure relying on the conventional system. This is a system that keeps victims waiting and clinging to banal hopes. Erica decides to take matters into her own hands and buys a gun.
Perhaps this is Jordan’s comment on America’s obsession with guns and how easy it is to get them (though in the film the manor in which Erica gets her hands on one is ludicrous). Once she kills a rampaging man in a liquor store, there’s no turning back.
There is a nice sense of pacing through the first hour, with the tension properly ratcheted up – but as the second hour lumbers on predictably, the film suffers from all of the usual genre clichés: too-snappy banter and inappropriate flirting, comedic bad men who practically beg to be murdered, and the star becoming a mythical avenging angel.
This is not Flightplan or Panic Room (not to disparage them, they’re immensely entertaining)—while these films both might seem, on a surface level, to be cousins to The Brave One (the marketing looks almost identical), they have no common denominators other than Foster playing a woman who manages to turn the tables. This well-acted, sure-to-be popular entertainment has now become Foster’s forte, and this time out she is supported by a stellar cast: Terrence Howard as a homicide detective who becomes intrigued by Erica, the marvelously wry Nicky Katt as his partner, Mary Steenburgen, Jane Adams, and even Zoe Kravitz (daughter of rocker Lenny and Lisa Bonet), all savor their smallish supporting turns.
Foster’s connection to violence and bloodshed on film is a mysterious one (and one that was played out in her real life when an obsessed fan shot President Ronald Reagan to impress her), but it is a subject matter that she somehow continually re-defines: from a rape victim in The Accused, to a child prostitute liberated from her life of destitution by a psycho in Taxi Driver, to a fledgling FBI agent who hunts down a killer of women in Lambs, the actresses’ willingness to confront violence and it’s taboos in such a whip-smart fashion must be commended. The polarizing public opinion on the subject of revenge and vigilantism plays out in the film much like it does in real life: it provokes very strong reactions, even from those who have nothing to do with it – much like The Brave One likely will.
If this film does not secure Foster the means to finance her long-planned Leni Riefenstahl biography, nothing will. Here’s to hoping we see a lot more of the new, riskier Foster.
Next up, Toronto Day One continues with: The Coen Brothers’ weird and slightly boring No Country for Old Men, Ang Lee’s gorgeous, melodramatic Lust, Caution, and the deft Joy Division biopic Control by Anton Corbijn.