(2007) dir. Neil Jordan
As I started to watch The Brave One, I wondered why I had chosen to queue it and rent it. A female version of Death Wish (1974), a revenge tale, vengeance through vigilanteism. A character who is thrown from the “regular” world into a world of violence, reacting by picking up a gun and shooting down the “bad guys”. Actually, it might have been interesting to watch this in contrast with Death Sentence (2007), the Kevin Bacon thriller that is based, I believe on similar source material as Death Wish. I didn’t plan on seeing that, but maybe I will.
But coming back to why I queued this, I don’t think the content so much interested me, but I’ve always liked Jodie Foster and I’ve been interested in Neil Jordan since his film The Butcher Boy (1997), though his filmic output has been a truly mixed quality. He has an filmography that is not epic, but is consistently interesting. (On an aside, I try not to use the word “interesting” when writing, because it’s a fallback term that doesn’t say much. I sometimes try to go back through these entries and replace “interesting” with some word more interesting, oddly enough. But sometimes, it’s the only word I can think of. My apologies.)
For my money, approaching the film in the contrasts of the urban vigilante genre, would be the most enlightening. Taken on its own terms, the film has a couple of key focal points. One is Foster’s relationship with New York. She is a talk radio personality, recording the evolving character of New York City. The trauma of the beating that she receives and that kills her fiancee turns the city into a different place for her, and she sees herself as different. There is something in this, but the film doesn’t really grip this concept in a significant manner.
Similarly, the film has an interest in technology and the recording of events of violence, which it also drops halfway through. The initial violence is recorded on a camcorder by the ruffians, though it doesn’t make sense why and the recording never comes back in the narrative. Foster’s first killing of her own is videoed on the surveillence camera in the corner market, a tape that she takes and replays. The next killing is recorded only in sound, which she also listens to over and again. There seems like something was being played with here at some level, but it evaporates toward the end.
Now, I am going to tell you how this movie ends, so if you don’t want to know, then stop reading.
What did perplex me was the ending and ultimately what the film is endorsing. Terrence Howard’s (who is very good) character, the very dedicated and sensitive, caring cop, who ends up knowing the Foster is the vigilantee killer and tells her that his integrity would have put her in jail, gives in and let’s her blow away the last of her fiancees killers when he could easily have put him in jail. And she’s killed the others.
Even though the film has a sensitivity to Foster’s experience and perspective, this is no Charles Bronson, icy-hearted justice, but it is ultimately justified by the film. For a while, it seems like she is spiralling out of control and the only way the film can end is with her incarcerated or killed. And in many ways, that seems like what will happen, so it’s kind of surprising and troubling that Howard allows her to kill and get away. Foster’s character keeps hoping that someone will stop her, wondering aloud why no one has caught her. What does it mean that even good-hearted honest people would allow for the a person to dole out vengence and violence with impunity? Does the film justify that? It seems to. Then how different is it than Broson and company? Just a more sensitive and politic version of the same belief in the gut response of brutal street justice.
It’s kinda scary. But maybe my reaction to that is my ambivalence toward the vengeance film genre. Maybe that is why I was wondering why I actually queued this film. I guess sometimes I don’t know exactly why I do things.