Friday, October 05, 2007


RUNTIME: 119 min.
RATING: ****

Choosing a woman to take reins of her own justice isn’t a move just for the sake of it; it does have its emotional and psychological bearings. Most revenge films, most notably the stoic-faced Charles Bronson’s Death Wish, just happen to revel in the vengeful mood basically exploiting the audiences’ taste for that best-served-cold dish. And they happen to star a male, an emotionless gun-wielding poor-excuse-for-a-vigilante male so conveniently appealing to the core demographic, isn’t a coincidence either. I admit, I enjoy the pleasure of the bang-bang of Kersey’s gun, but I do feel guilty about it too for those kind of films aren’t provoking the thought as much as they are taking the shallow, convenient side of the moral debate and pretending that they are profound when all the time they are is mere genre films. But a woman has feelings, at least it is the norm to portray that she has feelings. And that is what Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, The Butcher Boy) has used to portray, not the cause and the after-effects for they are so convenient to portray, but the effect and the transformation process of those effects. There are few aspects of human existence that are as tough to portray convincingly as the transformation of a personality.
On the surface Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) is a regular happy woman having the love of her life in her boyfriend, yet she does have a remarkable sense of observation for life, for her surroundings, for her world. And that sets her apart from most happy people who more often than not are oblivious to all the elements of the world that have little or nothing to do with them. That is an important trait to be established for such a person, in my opinion, is infinitely more sensitive and susceptible to some of the dangerous effects later shown in the picture than the oblivious kind. Erica works as a host of a radio show “Street Walk” where she speaks on her views, views that alternate between the pink and the gray. She returns home one day and goes for a stroll with her soon-to-be-husband boyfriend. And that stroll in the up to now friendly neighborhood of the up to now friendly neighborhood shatters her life forever when the two of them are brutally beaten by three unknown hoodlums in an act of random violence. Her boyfriend succumbs to the fatal injuries but Erica, survives, yet the pink area in her is almost lost forever. And she turns to vigilantism in order to avenge herself.
Watching The Brave One, I was reminded of Shyamalan’s brilliant deep-in-comics mythology film Unbreakable, a film as much about transformation as it is about realization. Though the script here by Roderick and Bruce Taylor isn’t remotely as brilliantly convincing as Shyamalan’s, the psychological and emotional effects are portrayed wonderfully of being a vigilante. David Dunne in Unbreakable reminded me of Spiderman with generous doses of Superman, a man morally good yet not having the god-like heart of the Man of Steel. Erica here is a straightforward vigilante, not Batman (then, how can one be) but very much resonating the violent spirit of Azrael (For non-Batfans, Azrael is the man who stood for and as Batman when Bane broke the Bat’s back in Knightfall). Her job as a radio show host echoes her vigilante status – a voice without a face. People are aware of her and her voice but they don’t really know her, just as everybody in Gotham is aware of billionaire Bruce Wayne.
But granting her a vigilante status would be too convenient to describe her morality and thence a gross injustice to the film. Erica asks herself after she kills two in a subway as to why didn’t she pull the gun before and warn them rather than wait for them to attack and shoot them point blank, giving them no chance. She wonders, why don’t her hands stutter. But she is avoiding herself the question that is most obvious and the answer to the above two – why does she have this uncanny knack of walking into these situations, situations wherein she could use her gun even when not compelled to? Probably she seeks them and probably she relishes them, probably a case of Memento. What director Neil Jordan and in effect The Brave One convey so effectively, despite some none too convincing plot markers aiding the transformation, are the emotional results of this violent transformation and it does provoke the debate inside us regarding the morality of the vigilantism. And it never betrays the protagonist, the stand so obviously and truthfully stated in its title. Jordan is like a lawyer so honestly and diligently explaining the case of her client that he naively exposes the hidden secrets too. We empathize with Erica but we never condone her acts, in fact we feel for the victims.
But of course, the actual graphic element of the violent acts fails to live up to the emotional levels that the film so very much aspires for. It doesn’t remotely shock – you expect her to shoot in the face, you expect that burst of the bang. The opening random act though, does land a brutal punch in the stomach; probably on par with the rape sequence in Foster’s other film about random violence The Accused. I found myself cringe in my seat at every blow that was landed on the couple (I sleepwalked through the so-called torture porns like Saw and Hostel), the sound effects taking maximum points much like the rifle gun shots boxing punches in Raging Bull.
The film, as I mentioned its diligence earlier, does overdo the style though. The tone sometimes gears into melodrama and narrates through voiceovers elements that are better off felt. The script is a worry too; the plot markers aiding the transformation are too convenient with a cheese in top. There was no need to show the first kill in the shop in so dramatic a fashion; probably the film felt audiences wouldn’t like her protagonist. It captures so brilliantly the apprehension Erica faces as she is entering the world for the best time, yet it overdoes the after-effects of the killings, needlessly moving the camera to and fro. What is one moment a brilliantly subtle capture of the mechanical ways of the cop at the police station is blown away into just-in-case-you-didn’t-get-it imposing upon the audience as the film asks him to repeat the line to another victim. A little bit of overestimating the audience wouldn’t do any harm.
One sequence in particular bothered me though – as Erica leaves the shop after killing the man she tries to wipe the fingerprints of her own gun, probably a result of our nervous instincts developed on TV-Cinema crime. But she doesn’t leave the shop in a hurry; she methodically gets across the counter and removes the security tape. Instinctively, shouldn’t that be a realization some time later, say, after she walks a few steps outside the shop. There was something too Bourne-ish about her instincts and that didn’t exactly ring a convincing bell in my ear.
Jodie Foster, of course is brilliant and when is she isn’t. She even made me sit through the awful Flightplan. She has that honesty in her; in her performances and this is a character so tailor-made for Foster. Yes, she was brilliant with her charmingly manipulative ways in Inside Man and how couldn’t she be. But this is vintage Foster. And she has an equally wonderful support from Terence Howard (Crash, Hustle & Flow). Howard reminds me of Forest Whittaker, besides the resemblance, he does have the same sensitivity about him. A man who is honest, righteous and so vulnerable to be hurt, a man who so readily empathizes with people. The relationship that the two characters share could be classified under romance, yes, but what they share is something deeper and stronger that is not bounded by gender. It is the connecting cord that runs between them that transcends commonplace friendships, a relation that reverberates in the strange unique way as that of Batman and Gordon – the way they look at each other, feel each other, know each other.
How will the two end up? Will they clash? I’m not too sure the film does justice at the end. But I won’t complain, not at all. Maybe that is why vigilantism strikes a chord. However, I wish they didn’t end it by Erica walking past the tunnel to her voice-over; rather a shot of her seemingly at peace with herself would have been an image to savor. And then, we could have a clash between the ideologies of David Dunne and Erica Bain in a sequel.

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