The Brave One 3 stars
Starring Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Adams. Directed by Neil Jordan. Released by Warner Bros. Rated R; 2:02.
Jodie Foster’s sublime performance in “The Brave One” roots the movie’s exploitative urges in deeply felt emotion. As New York City talk-radio host Erica Bain, Foster is a raw nerve of grief and rage — her torment is jolting — and the indelible performance both feeds, and questions, the audience’s appetite for watching brutal revenge murders.
And thus “The Brave One” is intriguingly problematic. It is an introspective action film about vigilante justice that also critiques its own impulse to thrill. The plot has the familiar ring of an exploitation film: A woman watches thugs brutally murder her fiancée (Naveen Andrews of TV’s “Lost”), and then, frustrated by an inept police force, she buys a gun and goes all vigilante.
The film is filled with contradictions, but director Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game”) knows it and uses it to his advantage. “The Brave One” buffs nasty subject matter with an artistic sheen; masterfully shot by cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, the movie’s Manhattan is a woman’s worst nightmare, a city where Erica always wonders what lies around the next corner, what lurks at the end of a dimly lit apartment hallway.
So Erica buys a gun off the black market and begins hanging out in unsavory places: a subway in the middle of the night, a deli in a bad neighborhood. Like Charles Bronson, she begins blowing away random criminals. A detective (Terrence Howard, “Hustle & Flow”) develops a close friendship with Erica even as his suspicion grows.
Howard and Foster are electric together in a diner scene late in the movie. Watch how the actors’ eyes give away their characters’ true intentions even when their words say otherwise. Guns got this movie made, but it’s the understated dynamic between Foster and Howard that makes it worth watching.