**1/2 out of *****
Roger Ebert once wrote that nobody intentionally sets out to make a bad movie.
I think the problem with “The Brave One” is that the filmmakers set their bar too high; they wanted to make a really, really good movie – an important movie, a movie that would entertain but also say something profound about our society. “The Brave One” simply tries too hard, striving to be a revenge picture and a serious Oscar-contender, and in the process it fails on both counts.
Jodie Foster stars as Erica Bain, a New York City radio show host. One night while strolling in Central Park, Erica and her fianc/ David (Naveen Andrews) are randomly attacked by a group of street thugs. Erica is roughed up pretty bad, but she survives. David, however, is killed.
After recovering from her injuries, Erica goes to the police station to check up on the investigation of David’s murder, where she is told by an indifferent officer to sit and wait for a detective to see her.
Of course, no detective comes, and there is an interesting moment where Erica observes another person being told by the same officer in the same bland tone to sit and wait for a detective to come.
At this point, “The Brave One” had the chance to truly involve us in Erica’s frustration with the impotence of traditional justice. If the scene with Erica at the station had been longer, or if there had been multiple scenes where Erica was repeatedly brushed off, I might have more deeply empathized with her desire to take the law into her hands.
Instead, Erica leaves the station, illegally buys a gun, and becomes a Batman-like figure of retribution, going around the city killing those who arguably deserve it.
At the same time that she’s enacting vigilante-style justice, Erica strikes up a friendship with Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard), a fan of her radio show who also happens to be a cop investigating the murders Erica is perpetrating.
The movie features fine performances from Foster and Howard, but the fatal flaw of “The Brave One” is in its script.
In theory, David’s senseless death provides Erica with the perfect motivation to become a vigilante; in practice, though, her progression from intellectual talk show host to Charles Bronson is too abrupt and too easy, serving more as a plot device than as a meaningful development of her character.
In mindless action pictures a lack of realistic character motivation is forgivable, but I’m holding “The Brave One” up to a higher standard since the movie aims to show how revenge can transform people into the very thing they wish to destroy.
This is a noble-minded picture – no doubt about it – made with the best of intentions. But noble-mindedness and good intentions don’t always equal a good movie.