Director of Mona Lisa, Breakfast on Pluto, and The Crying Game, Neil Jordan is inexorably drawn to the transformative powers and the trappings of both fairy tales and movie subgenres. With The Brave One, he grapples with a prevailing contemporary archetype — the avenging victim — which has held a death grip on violence and morality in American cinema, not to mention politics. Jodie Foster’s anguished radio host Erica Bain, whose fiancé is mauled to death by thugs in Central Park, reacts with today’s brand of generalized revenge in the throes of trauma and a seething, consuming need for the unattainable — a slowly merging Jekyll-and-Hyde figure for our time of fear, confusion, and righteous, self-defeating action.
Erica gets a gun and uses it in situations unsought and sought, while two detectives (Terence Howard and Nicky Katt) investigate these new, strangely disconnected killings. Erica inhabits a New York rendered off-kilter and lurid by her fractured state and the genre’s rude demands, recalling somewhat the purposefully deployed city of Jane Campion’s In the Cut. And if Campion’s subjective ambitions went woefully misunderstood, The Brave One may put off the same unreceptive crowds with its role-playing embrace of genre markers, like the converging plot, or Erica’s poster-ready gunshot taglines and the cops’ morbid banter.
Yet The Brave One lacks the alchemy of Jordan’s best work, which brings gender and race subtexts to the surface. Any success rests to a perilous extent on Foster’s shoulders, because something about this American template clearly slips through Jordan’s fingers (like an attempt at suggesting the centerless media-doubled society). All these distractions can’t take away from the film as a mood piece — clenched and reeling.