Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Brave One (2007)

by Tommy "The Snide One" Pluck

People who are strangers to guns imbue them with a quality not unlike the One Ring from Tolkien. They seduce you, they lure you, their power leads you to do things civilized people just don't do. Personally, I think if the seduction is in the eye of the beholder, forbidden fruit is always seductive. I was raised with guns in the house, and was taught to respect, not fear, them. Rather like a chainsaw, or any other tool you wouldn't play with unless you have limbs to spare. In Neil Jordan's The Brave One, he tries to sell gun ownership and vigilantism to the NPR crowd. A noble effort. More liberals should own guns, but not to feel empowered.

I like Jodie Foster quite a bit, as well as Neil Jordan, but despite the film's attempt at an intellectual look at vengeance in civilized society, it is entirely wish fulfillment, fantasy, and liberal feel-good fantasy at that. The movie has a bit of split-personality, which I can relate to; I consider myself politically liberal in social matters, but I am also a gun owner who strongly supports 2nd Amendment rights. The movie should be tailored for me to enjoy, but it didn't ring true.

Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain, a radio celebrity, which gives her a unique forum to talk about crime in the city, justice, and vigilantism. She and her fiancé (Naveen Andrews, Sayid from Lost) are attacked by three racist, tattooed thugs in Central Park, in a chilling and masterfully filmed sequence. They do not shy away from depicting the helplessness and horror of witnessing a brutal attack on a loved one.

To me, it felt like a story written for the NPR crowd. I felt like I was being pandered to. It felt too neat to me. But maybe I was expecting too much. An enlightened liberal talk show host avenging a hate crime committed by neo-Nazis just seemed all too tailored to Jodie's audience, but perhaps that is the point, to get an audience who wouldn't watch Charles Bronson in Death Wish to cheer Jodi on. The problem is that everything comes too easily. Even the gun, which she buys legally. In New York City, where gun ownership is forbidden. Right.

In Death Wish, Paul Kersey vomits the first time he dispatches a mugger, shivering as he aims the pistol. He's only empowered much later, after the sickness passes. Jodie's tale felt more like it was about the lure of the firearm's power; at the gun shop, she seems like a fat kid in a bakery. In Death Wish, Kersey's wife is murdered but he never finds the killers; instead he metes out random justice and strikes fear into criminals who never know if a watching bystander might pull out a nickel-plated revolver and kill them. In The Brave One, she hunts them down with little trouble, despite the police being helpless to stop them.

The film portrays Foster's seduction by firearm deftly, but then goes awry by making her vengeance all too easy, both physically and morally. It gives her no guilt, no hard choices to make, leaving the film a compelling thriller, but not much else. I found it fun, but empty. We want her to succeed, but she pays nothing for it. Vengeance almost always comes at a price. Erica Bain slips into the night with a little nod from the police. It works well as catharsis, but not much else. If Mr. Jordan wanted this to lure us into cheering for a raw act of revenge, he needs an ending that shows us baring our fangs in the mirror.