With some films, you can understand how performances can garner an Academy Award or Golden Globe nomination. How Jodie Foster managed to pull off a Golden Globe nomination with this pile escapes me. Yes, it's not a recent film, but this pissed me off so much that I decided to write about it, as if it mattered at this point.
“The monster who took you away from me will soon learn that revenge is a dish best served cold,” said Mr. Freeze to a replica of his dead wife in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Heart of Ice.”
Freeze had a motive: take vengeance on the man who caused his wife’s death. As such, he planned to take the law into his hands and pay back the man who ruined his life. Erica Baines (Jodie Foster) of Neil Jordan’s The Brave One
(2007), has a similar tale that involves the swift hand of vengeance, but also poses the question of how much, if at all, will it take? Blending elements from films such as Kill Bill and DC Comics’ Batman, Jordan’s film, while still attempting to add unique elements to the psychological thriller character study and theme of vengeance, offers a look at how taking the law into our own hands can right a wrong, but unlike the previously mentioned works, The Brave One has a typical plot with many unanswered questions and stock characters that do not bring anything new to the genre.
Stayin' alive until you walk under a bridge with the guy from Lost
Now, I think it's best to at least give credit where credit is due before ripping a film apart. But while not giving anything new to this genre, Jordan does still use the cinematography to help intensify the fear Baines experience in the aftermath of her attack and death of her fiancé David (Naveen Andrews). The out of focus camera angles, similar to Panic Room- another Foster led film- used when Baines walks down a hallway and emphasis on sound effects and surroundings- while not as effective as No Country for Old Men- help draw the viewer into Foster’s character so soon after her survival in order to show the slow progression it takes for her to enter society without fear.
Also, juxtaposing flashbacks of David and Erica together during and after the attack, as well as that David’s funeral occurred during her coma, also help establish that Baines is a character who has lost someone precious to her due to an indiscriminate attack on her life and could very well be justified in her decision to take action. The film examines the grief and trauma Baines experiences and how they lead the vigilante aspect to her already fragile character and how those around her help her through the process.
However, the characters around Baines are typical characters that have been used before, such as the cop who is struggling to follow the law and the voice of reason. Nothing original is introduced with the supporting cast. While the law has trouble keeping up with Baines, Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard), while coming off as someone itching to use whatever means necessary to apprehend the bad guys- i.e., a possibly corrupt stepfather arguing over custody of his daughter- remains within his limits because, as he says, “I follow the law.”
Mercer shares some parallels with Baines, but outside of his involvement with the end murders, he serves more as Tom to Jerry, always managing to show up just moments after his prey has fled only for the game of cat and mouse to pick up again. While Howard and Foster do establish a cop and victim dynamic not unlike the buddy cop relationships of Lethal Weapon or Beverly Hills Cop, Howard is just inserted into the aftermath of Foster’s murders and his character does not add anything new to the cop on top of his job. The same can be said about Josai (Ene Oloja), Foster’s neighbor who reminds her and the audience that there are plenty of ways to die, but you have “to figure out a way to live.” Even though Josai is essentially the Oracle without Neo-
Clearly, Baines, you popped the red pill.
-her role as the voice of reason can be misinterpreted as the trigger for Baines to continue her vigilante justice. In one scene, Baines returns home after murdering the aforementioned stepfather- the two were conveniently placed in the same building- and is bleeding. While telling Josai to her face “I killed a man tonight,” Baines is let free back into the dangerous New York streets without as much as a phone call to the authorities. Despite Baines having the support of others around her to guide her through her grief, she still is not satisfied and her murders continue. Through stock characters that do not bring anything new to the film, the plot and structure of the film become predictable and the supporting cast bring no new elements to the character study.
In addition to the familiar characters, the problem with this character study is that it is too formulaic to bring a character moved by loss to vengeance. Bruce Wayne witnessed his parents murdered before his eyes and pledged to work as Batman to alleviate his anger and protect Gotham from the likes that killed his parents. However, Batman’s one rule has always been no killing in order to separate himself from the same type of person that killed his parents. Baines, while witnessing the death of a loved one and claiming to have never used a gun, adopts a “shoot first, worry later” philosophy in her vigilante shootings after purchasing a gun to protect herself. Batman, while not having any superpowers, seeks the villain’s motive and attempts to incapacitate them for the authorities without breaking his one rule. Baines, however, has no rule; she is a vigilante still riddled with fear, yet conveniently placed in locations where her life is threatened. Batman has probable cause to apprehend evildoers, and while Baines has every right to be threatened by two men attempting to rape her on a train, a man who murders his wife in a convenience store, or a taxi cab driver who has a drugged woman in the back of his cab, her vigilante murders seem to be spurs of the moment and comprised of lucky shots instead of deciding whether the criminals deserved to meet justice at her hands instead of the law’s.
Right. That's the face of a woman who blows away two random men without having much experience with films.
It becomes Baines against the world instead of Baines against those responsible for her loss. While sharing some similarities with Batman, what separates the two is Batman’s willingness to prove the law works, leading to different solutions for each encounter with a villain. Baines, however, works outside the law and the jump to becoming a vigilante has no development. By her third murder, the formula is already worn thin.
Because obviously, after 9-11, men sit in taxis with drugged girls, just waiting to be shot by a woman giving long, drawn out monologues on a radio program.
As Quentin Tarantino showed through Kill Bill Vol. 1 & II, the vigilante formula can still work if there is proper character development and motivation. Uma Thurman’s character, Beatrix Kiddo, was raped, beaten and her friends killed on her wedding day, put into a coma by a bullet, and left to die. At the end of Part II, she points out to Bill, her former lover and new enemy, that if she had to make a list of impossible things that would happen, him “performing a coup de grace on me by busting a cap in my crown would be right at the top of the list.” She has probable cause to find her attackers and murder them in cold blood indiscriminately, but with Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino knew how to have the viewer sympathize with the victim and craft a vigilante with restraint, but also one that legitimate reason to kill those who took something away from her. Kiddo had control over her emotions and actions more than her emotions and actions had control over her. In The Brave One, however, Erica Baines’ murders are not committed because the people have wronged her and were not done out of fear.
the face of a warrior, but then again, I imagine myself doing horrible things to Uma Thurman in my mind, so I'm biased.
This, not so much. Foster wanders around with this lost expression on her face like she's daydreaming. This isn't Panic Room
, Foster! You can emote!
Also, Baines has no personal connection to her victims and aside from the three attackers from the beginning; none were responsible for the loss of her fiancé. She happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. She is not guided by her emotions or actions; she surrenders to them while pulling out a gun and firing in the right spots without a second thought of what motivated her to shoot and worry later. As opposed to learning about the villain and heroine’s motivation, as with Kill Bill, Baines’ victims in The Brave One are forgettable representations of violence that exist to be despised and quickly killed. Tarantino shows Kiddo’s fear through near death encounters, being buried alive, and worrying that her daughter is dead, but The Brave One attempts to convince the viewer that Baines’ fear is based on post 9-11 fear and contemporary issues like the Iraq War and not her tapped ability to pull out a gun and deliver fatal shots without a second thought.
“I should’ve walked out of that train. Why don’t my hands shake?” Foster’s inner monologues would make her character more relatable if she, like a struggling alcoholic, admitted she had a problem, yet from killing two “thugs” on a train to taking a crowbar to a stepfather’s face, she walks away from each murder confident in her decision, donning shades and a cigarette in the mouth to give off a bad girl vibe that fizzles out despite her attempt to play executioner in the film’s conclusion. After a string of getaway murders, a ring to rule them all guides her to an associate of the ringleader who orchestrated the attack at the beginning of the film. Through this confrontation comes a revisit- for both the viewer and Foster- to that horrifying scene.
Yeah, that one. Point of interest: Walking around at night in a movie has often spelled disaster. Apparently, Baines had similar comas where she missed the past however many films where victims are attacked at night.
Baines retaliates on all three and instead of taking her into custody, Detective Mercer- always on the trail- sympathizes with her after witnessing the video and offers a way out: let him take the shot- mind you, the only
time Baines’ hands shook before firing- frame the dead man, and let Baines escape into the night as she vows “there is no going back.” She is free of guilt and possible retribution, but did her long sought vengeance bring her happiness? Unlike all of Foster’s thoughts in her monologues, this thought never crossed her mind and the film never answers this question.
“The cold eyes of vengeance are upon you, Boyle,” said Mr. Freeze as he stared into the eyes of the man who killed his wife. Did Freeze win? As Batman explained, the best solution to alleviating grief is not vengeance, but justice. Freeze was incarcerated, Kiddo made up with Bill before killing him and leaving with her daughter, but where does The Brave One
leave Erica Baines? The film does bring up the constant theme of vengeance, but it does not show where it ends. How many lives does it take to realize that nothing can bring the dead back? Should a person be killed because they did a bad thing? The film leaves these questions unanswered and while Jordan’s film does show that it takes some wrongs may make a right, it also shows that the ends do not always justify the means. An all too familiar moral. Close the storybook and wake up.
So all in all, a film that if I gave a rating that meant anything, would be some ol bull. It's too familiar, brings nothing new, and really says something when the best character is one of the main character's partners. Nicky Katt has some good one liners, but that's the best the film has to offer. It's drained of most of its color, has weak performances from both Foster and Terrance, and makes me wonder what Foster went up against in 2007 to garner a nomination. Must've been a slow year for female protagonists. Nothing to admire, nothing to enjoy. Skip it. If you've seen it, consider bleaching your brain to wash away the memory.
"Don't be afraid. There's no crappy sequel."