×

The Brave One

Hell hath no fury like a woman with a grudge, and in “The Brave One,” Jodie Foster unleashes her rage on the mean streets of New York with the same mesmeric intensity and steely resolve that have characterized her very best performances.

With:
Erica Bain - Jodie Foster Sean Mercer - Terrence Howard David Kirmani - Naveen Andrews Jackie - Carmen Ejogo Det. Vitale - Nicky Katt Carol - Mary Steenburgen Mortell - Lenny Venito Chloe - Zoe Kravitz

Hell hath no fury like a woman with a grudge, and in “The Brave One,” Jodie Foster unleashes her rage on the mean streets of New York with the same mesmeric intensity and steely resolve that have characterized her very best performances. Foster’s pistol-packing turn as an avenging dark angel nearly sustains director Neil Jordan’s grim vigilante drama through a string of implausibilities and occasionally trite psychological framing devices, with deft support from Terrence Howard as a sympathetic cop. Top talent involved should draw decent midrange B.O. for the Warner Bros. release, despite its tough subject matter.

While Jordan typically works from his own scripts, “The Brave One” (written by Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor and Cynthia Mort), with its distaff twist on the vigilante picture, feels appropriate coming from a helmer who, in films like “The Crying Game” and “Breakfast on Pluto,” has handled issues of gender subversion with subtlety and dramatic flair.

Popular on Variety

Here, he gets a performance out of his lead actress that takes on extra-textual dimensions thanks to Foster’s previous performances as a woman in trouble, whether as a battered prostitute in “Taxi Driver,” a rape victim in “The Accused” or a green FBI agent in “The Silence of the Lambs.”

A radio host who tells stories about life in “the safest big city in the world,” Erica Bain (Foster) finds her world irretrievably altered one night when she and her fiance, David (“Lost’s” Naveen Andrews), are attacked and savagely beaten by a trio of thugs during a stroll through Central Park. The assault leaves David dead and Erica with more lasting psychological than physical scars, and it’s not long afterward that she impulsively buys a gun.

Erica no longer feels safe — a fact made clear enough by Foster’s clenched, tight-set features, yet also excessively underlined by a nervously swerving camera and ominously subjective tracking shots through a dark corridor. But Erica’s fear and grief are ultimately subsumed by her anger, and when she kills for the first time — in self-defense — it leaves her with a vague appetite for more.

Justice or revenge? Hero or villain? All the usual questions arise, some of them pondered by callers-in to Erica’s show, who are alarmed by the vigilante in their midst. They’re pondered, too, by Sean Mercer (a superbly world-weary Howard), a cynical detective whom Erica interviews for a segment, and who also happens to be investigating Erica’s handiwork.

While the relationship between these two unexpectedly kindred spirits takes on a queasy intimacy that results in some of the film’s strongest scenes, it also points up the script’s reliance on tidy coincidences: Even viewers who buy Erica as both cold-blooded murderess and respected media personality may raise an eyebrow at the fact that Mercer and his partner (Nicky Katt) appear to be the only homicide detectives in the entire city. Similarly, that Erica finds herself readily imperiled almost every time she goes out at night — even when she starts looking for trouble — seems awfully convenient, even as it promises to feed audiences’ worst stereotypes about Gotham crime rates.

But “The Brave One” convinces where it most counts, as Foster delivers a performance of astonishing physical and psychological credibility. Lowering her already deep voice to a husky rasp (speaking mainly in a disturbingly cool voiceover that bleeds into her sessions on the air), her eyes glazed over one moment but flickering with murderous excitement the next, the actress all but physicalizes the idea of a woman boldly inhabiting a man’s skin — an inner transformation that Erica seems to observe from the outside.

At the same time, Jordan films the actress to accentuate her petite stature, her lithe frame, her thin arms constantly bared from the shoulders. When Erica walks the streets at night or strides purposefully onto a subway platform, she seems to be descending, wraith-like, into the abyss; yet her ferocity can also give way, without warning, to vulnerability and panic, especially when events begin to spiral out of her control.

Even at her most ruthless, Foster never cedes her grip on the viewer’s concern — but then, neither did Charles Bronson in “Death Wish.” Jordan neither subverts the pleasures of seeing lone-ranger justice onscreen, as David Cronenberg did in “A History of Violence,” nor panders overtly to the audience’s baser instincts; instead, “The Brave One” attempts to tap into post-9/11 anxieties and comment on the very American idea of righteous payback.

But it’s hard not to feel that this moribund genre has simply exhausted its ability to say anything new, and even the film’s too-twisty denouement — which brings new meaning to the term “cop-out” — feels softer than the provocation it’s meant to be.

Pic has its grungy, dark-night-of-the-soul ambience down cold, thanks to expert New York location shooting and Philippe Rousselot’s moody, desaturated lensing. All other tech contributions are pro.

The Brave One

Production: A Warner Bros. release presented in association with Village Roadshow Pictures of a Silver Pictures production. Produced by Joel Silver, Susan Downey. Executive producers, Herbert W. Gains, Jodie Foster, Dana Goldberg, Bruce Berman. Co-producer, David Gambino. Directed by Neil Jordan. Screenplay, Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor, Cynthia Mort; story, Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Philippe Rousselot; editor, Tony Lawson; music, Dario Marianelli; production designer, Kristi Zea; art director, Robert Guerra; set decorator, Lydia Marks; costume designer, Catherine Thomas; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital/SDDS), Tom Nelson; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Philip Stockton; re-recording mixer, Tom Fleischman; visual effects supervisor, Eric J. Robertson; visual effects, Brainstorm Digital; stunt coordinator, Steven Ritzi; associate producer, Aaron Auch; assistant director, Richard Patrick; casting, Laura Rosenthal. Reviewed at Warner Bros. studios, Burbank, Aug. 22, 2007. (In Toronto Film Festival - Special Presentations.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 122 MIN.

Cast: Erica Bain - Jodie Foster Sean Mercer - Terrence Howard David Kirmani - Naveen Andrews Jackie - Carmen Ejogo Det. Vitale - Nicky Katt Carol - Mary Steenburgen Mortell - Lenny Venito Chloe - Zoe Kravitz

More Scene

  • Sean Penn CORE Gala

    Sean Penn Offers to Take Selfies in Exchange for $5,000 Donations to Disaster Relief

    A decade after the catastrophic 7.0 Haiti earthquake left between 50,000 and 100,000 dead and nearly a million people displaced, Sean Penn hosted the 10th anniversary CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort) gala, raising funds for international disaster relief at the Wiltern Theatre on Wednesday night in Los Angeles. “We’re not here tonight because we want [...]

  • Allison Janney Viola Davis

    Viola Davis & Allison Janney React to Lack of Diversity in 2020 Oscar Nominations

    Monday morning’s Oscar nominations rebooted the #OscarsSoWhite conversation, reigniting discussion about representation after women were shut out of the directing category and only one person of color — Cynthia Erivo — was nominated in the acting categories. At the premiere of Amazon Original’s “Troop Zero” at The Grove in Los Angeles on Monday evening, the [...]

  • Star Trek Picard Premiere

    'Picard' Stars Reveal Which 'Star Trek' Character They Would Get Drunk With

    The cast and creators of “Star Trek: Picard” turned out for the show’s premiere at the ArcLight Cinerama Dome on Monday night. In the spirit of the festive atmosphere of the night, Variety asked them which “Star Trek” character, past or present, they’d most like to pound a few Romulan ales with at the local [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez Laura Dern

    Inside the 2020 Critics' Choice Awards: What You Didn't See on TV

    ‘Twas the night before Oscar nominations and all through the ballroom, the Barker Hanger was buzzing as critics mixed and mingled with A-listers inside the 25th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards on Sunday night. Life Achievement winner Eddie Murphy, #SeeHer honoree Kristen Bell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Bong Joon Ho were among the big names who played [...]

  • Taye Diggs Critics Choice

    Critics' Choice Awards: The Complete Winners List

    The 25th annual Critics’ Choice Awards gala, hosted by Taye Diggs, was broadcast live on The CW on Sunday night. It was a good night for both Netflix and HBO, with the studios taking home trophies for movies and shows like “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story,” “When They See Us,” “Watchmen” and “Succession.” “Once Upon a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content