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Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2007 05:16 pm

Payback is murder

Foster compelling and tragic in revenge thriller

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The Brave One Running time 1:57 Rated R ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
Untitled Document Neil Jordan’s The Brave One, which sports a dog-eared storyline, could have gone wrong in so many ways. That this revenge thriller doesn’t is a credit to Jodie Foster’s compelling and tragic performance, solid support from Terrence Howard, and Jordan’s ability to accentuate the devastating effect of violence while appealing to our basest desires. Foster is Erica, a New Yorker through and through who celebrates the diversity of the city on her radio program. Engaged, comfortable, and optimistic, her world is shattered one night when she and her fiancО, David (Naveen Andrews), are attacked. She spends three weeks in a coma, and David is killed. Dealing with her grief and rage, she buys a gun to protect herself, but when she slays a robber at a neighborhood store a confusing flood of emotions overtakes her, and soon Erica starts dispensing her own brand of vigilante justice on those she deems dangerous. Comparisons to Death Wish, the recent Kevin Bacon entry Death Sentence, Taxi Driver, and the cult classic Ms. .45 are inevitable, and an air of exploitation hovers over the entire affair. Although Jordan is able to stage a gut-wrenching, intimate violent episode with the best of them, the time he spends examining what short-circuits Erica and makes her tick once more is what separates this film from its predecessors. Foster lays herself bare here, and it could be argued that she single-handedly elevates this material from its pulpy roots. Everything that Erica has built her life on, emotionally and professionally, has been torn away from her, and the actress’ display of grief in the face of such an upheaval is volatile, genuine, and ultimately poignant. Although we sympathize with Erica’s predicament, Jordan successfully walks the fine line between presenting Erica’s actions as justifiable or criminal. There’s little question as to what he thinks about Erica’s journey by the film’s end, but enough ambiguity is left for viewers to apply their own sense of morality to the film.
In a sense, Howard is our surrogate as Mercer, the only New York cop who seems to care about Erica’s ordeal. As he digs deeper into her past and begins to put the pieces together with regard to her reaction to it and the string of vigilante killings, he does not rush to judgment. Having gotten to know her, Mercer comes to realize that although Erica’s actions are illegal and perhaps immoral, ultimately she is just as much of a victim as those she targets. There are no clear distinctions between what we know to be morally wrong and what our basest instincts implore us to do. Senseless actions sometimes produce senseless behavior, and though Erica’s actions may not necessarily be considered heroic, the fact that she musters the effort to get up and greet each day is.
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