Jodie Foster excels as a radio reporter turned vigilante in "The Brave One."
Foster takes aim
Oh, this is not going to end well. No way. As the cute couple decide to walk their dog in nighttime Central Park -- a place of inky shadows, insectlike noises and, apparently, ominous minor-key music -- their fate seems sealed. We've seen too many movies; they bleed over into our perception of reality. The only questions are when and how, there's no surprise.
'The Brave One'
Opens Friday in theaters
As the song says, there's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear.
Jodie Foster plays the woman. She later awakens in a hospital bed, deeply fractured and torn, but the physical stuff heals. Her fiancé isn't as lucky. The two of them have been worked over by fiends, the kind who live under Central Park bridges, like urban trolls.
Foster is a radio reporter, the kind of aural essayist who exists on small public-service FM stations, who walk around picking up ambient noise and snippets of conversation and glue it together with patronizingly insightful monologues. But while she listens intently, she's not seeing what's right in front of her.
In a post-9/11 world, paranoia rules. Everyone is a potential enemy. The sunny Foster character, beaten to a pulpy mess, emerges thin-lipped and scared. On an impulse, she buys a gun. She learns the basics of gun handling. It's in her shoulder purse, along with her digital stereo recorder.
And, because this is a movie and has to shoot its story arc in the next hour, coincidences happen that require her to pull that gun out and use it. It's empowering. To her surprise, she kind of likes it, a reaction that also evokes self-loathing, because she's trained in self-analysis. She has to be, to write the sort of stuff she does. The female radio essayist -- is there any more liberal image than that? -- has become a coldblooded vigilante.
Paralleling Foster is a sympathetic homicide cop, played by Terrence Howard, and they are drawn together, partly because she's trying to do the wrong thing and hiding it and he's trying to do the right thing and hiding it, but mainly by coincidence. This is New York, not Mayberry.
Foster is pretty amazing. She has a fierce conviction, even when playing someone torn up by self-doubt, and it absolutely lifts the movie over the humps. With her tousled hair and laser eyes, her swimmer's physique accentuated by bicep-baring costumery, she's a damn Valkyrie, albeit a pint-sized one. Everyone in the movie seems to be twice as big as she is. Director Neil Jordan is a master at suggesting disorientation in visual cues, as well as a wee bit of gender confusion. The fields are shallow here, but rich.
Right about the time you're trying to remember Bernie Goetz's name, a detective in the movie pipes up, "Hey, what about Bernie Goetz?" and the other cops ignore him. He might have well said, "OK, then how about 'Ms. 45'? Or what about 'Death Wish' and all the Charles Bronson sequels? Where's our pop-corporate memory here?" but the point has been made; we've been down this road before.
"The Brave One" (terrible title) is still scary. Despite the conveniences of the plotting, and a twist ending that smells faintly of cop-out, this is a high-minded, serious movie that presses the right postdiscussion buttons. Foster is an average person, like us; are we capable of killing? When is it justified? What is the psychological fallout, and what's the half-life of grief? Is revenge a dish best served cold? The scenes are set up in a didactic sequencing, one that invites debate points.
But the movie is, at its heart, a thriller, one that uses secret feelings as motivation injections, but still an edge-of-your-seat creep show, and the daily ruthlessness of the real world out there reinforces the film's mythic message. What would you do, if you could get away with it?
Like the song says, paranoia strikes deep, into your life it will creep, it starts when you're always afraid ...