Operating very much within the same territory as the exploitation classic MS .45 (1981), this Neil (THE CRYING GAME) Jordan-helmed vehicle is at first glance another in the long line of “harmed citizen strikes back” flicks, but it’s head and shoulders better than most of its brethren thanks to it having more on its mind than giving its audience the vicarious thrill of seeing the human vermin who infest the streets greet a lead slug head-on.
Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain, an NPR-type radio talk show host who is brutally mugged one evening and survives the assault while her fiancée perishes from his injuries (adding insult to injury, the thugs also steal her dog). Understandably traumatized, she illegally obtains a firearm and sets about cruising the NYC streets, subways and parks in search of deserving prey, all in hope of one day finding the bastards who took away her man. As her body count grows the police follow her trail, and as they draw ever closer Bain enters into a friendship with the head of the investigation, a detective named Mercer (played by IRON MAN’s Terrence Howard); the detective sees her near the sight of a double homicide she’s just committed on the subway, recognizes her from her mugging (he’d seen her in the hospital) and is soon revealed to believe firmly in the letter of the law despite the fact that it doesn’t always work for those wronged, a state of reality that frustrates him immensely. As the two start up a dialogue and Bain learns to trust him, the detective sees just how messed up the vigilante talk show host is and starts to suspect she may be the killer he’s after, but does she really deserve incarceration when what she clearly needs is closure and therapy?
Therein lies the real heart of THE BRAVE ONE: the viewer isn’t prompted by the script into the bloodthirsty mania one would have expected from similar features that once populated Times Square during the golden age of grindhouse fodder, and instead we see the fear and paranoia Erica lives with when not safe within her broadcasting booth. Her recovery just is not possible until she puts down her fiancée’s killers, but until then she’s a fucking mess who’s conflicted by her own murderous nocturnal activities and the mostly-positive reception her rampage garners from the Big Apple’s population. Unlike the implacable forty-four caliber juggernauts who preceded her on the big screen, Bain is all-too-human and she’s disturbed that her hands do not shake after she terminates the city’s two-legged predators; all we want to see is her put down her pistol and get the help that she so clearly needs, never once experiencing the frisson of seeing her mete out terminal justice to a bunch of rat-fuck scumbags who really deserve it (okay, I admit that I wanted the pair on the subway to die most heinously, but so may you after one of them asks Erica the charming question, “Have you ever been fucked with a knife?”). No surprise, but Jodie Foster once more turns in a terrific performance, and her character’s on-the-edge-of-sanity nervousness fairly radiates from her fragile-looking frame, her haunted eyes conveying volumes of tortured emotion with just a closeup.
Terrence Howard’s Detective Mercer is also notable for being one of the more believable “noble cop” types, and as he starts to figure out that Erica is the vigilante killer we actually want to see him catch her because he obviously cares about her mental health and perfectly understands her agony; here is a cop who would do everything within his power to make things right for Bain, but in lieu of that being possible, what’s a guy to do?
A sobering antidote to vigilantism fantasy-fulfillment movies of the MS .45 school, THE BRAVE ONE is highly recommended, but it is in no way a feel-good date movie; it’s a study of a woman pushed past the limits of what she believes is right, and immersed into a visceral world where only the cold detachment of an urban hunter can write the final chapter in her epic of tragedy, so keep that in mind before renting.