Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Film Review: THE BRAVE ONE - Jodie's Got A Gun.

What is it about Jodie Foster? She projects fierce intelligence so effortlessly that she can instantly convince me of anything, even if it's something moronic in a film well below her talents. The woman could dress up like a Teletubby and spout nuclear physics and I would never for a second doubt that she was telling anything less than God's honest truth. This plucky inner "Mensa-ness" has carried her well through films brilliant (Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver), wonderfully fun (Maverick, Inside Man, Panic Room) and hideously hacky (Flightplan) without ever compromising her appeal and star power. Now, that's the sign of a movie star people.

Dame Foster brings her A-game once more, this time to Neil Jordan's urban vigilante film The Brave One. 'tis the story of a lovably oddball New York radio host (Foster) whose world is shattered when she and her fiance (Naveen Andrews) are viciously attacked by a group of young thugs. She lives, he doesn't, and soon she's getting a serious case of the Bronson's. She buys an illegal handgun and starts baiting criminals to attack her so she can take them out gunslinger style. Soon, her mysterious attacks draw the attention of a morose police officer (Terrence Howard) who, while investigating the case, finds himself entangled with her. Their friendship becomes an interesting study in mutual admiration and curiosity, with a slight hint of romantic yearning. It's the type of nuanced adult relationship we rarely see these days, and it elevates the film from its base B-movie roots.

The Brave One is a film that succeeds in spite of some apparent shortcomings entirely due to Foster and Howard's performances. The material in itself is powerful, but it too often falters in the logic department to be a true contender. Neil Jordan, an inspired director, seems to be unsure of how to steer this Hollywood idea film into being the type of that transcends its genre, like Spike Lee did with Inside Man. He is merely content to let his two leads do the heavy lifting and put some charge into a standard story. With that said, it's a nice looking film, with beautifully captured night shots and some haunting uses of light filtering through windows to better emphasize the heightened state of the film.

The screenplay, by scribes' Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor, and Cynthia Mort, makes decent use of the time-honored themes of the genre, without seeming too ridiculous or phony. Only two major sections seemed wrong-headed. These being when Foster, following a vicious attack in a scuzzy N.Y. area, goes wandering through the city's dregs in search of a handgun. Sure she's determined, but this is a woman so traumatized by her attack that she can't even leave her house without shaking. It rings false, but it isn't a deal-breaker. The other section that is questionable is the ending. It's a little too Hollywood happy-happy for me, not to mention unlikely. I severely doubt that events would transpire in such a way so as to allow the characters to resolve the story as they do. Still, it provides a certain catharsis and is at least mildly acceptable without being insulting. Some viewers may also be leery of the number of psychotic criminals who pop up when necessary, but I was willing to allow the writers' this particular flight of fancy in the name of Foster's character development.

Speaking of Foster, why isn't she the highest paid star in Hollywood? No offense to actresses like Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman (Who is the closest to a modern day Grace Kelly we have.), or Angelina Jolie, but none of them display the sheer intensity and power that Miss Jodie does in every one of her films. I can't recall a single movie where she seemed to be phoning it in... Here again she delivers another ace performance that manages to stay with the viewer well after the story's convolutions are forgotten. It's the type of role worthy of an Oscar if only the film were stronger. She's badass and we accept it. Hell, we believe she could kick the ass of any thug in town! That we deem this likely is further testament to Foster's abilities to project her character's inner strength onto the audience. I'm now fully convinced she could beat the stuffing out of the three actresses mentioned above and still have enough energy to drop Dwight Yoakum with a sledge-hammer again ala Panic Room.

Terrence Howard, a naturally intense actor, continues to search for that post-Hustle & Flow defining role that will permanently enter him into the upper pantheon of great actors. He hasn't found it here, but his hunger is palpable. His sharp intelligence is a perfect counterpart to Foster's and the two work beautifully together. If only the writing had been a bit better we may have had a relationship as memorable as the whole Starling/Lecter shebang. As it stands though, Howard lends a smouldering rage to his character that better emphasizes the character's internal sadness. We want Jodie to get away, and yet we can't help empathizing with Howard. It takes a strong actor to make a part like this shine, and Terrence Howard shows us once again why his talent is unlikely to disappear from movies for a long time.

The other actor worthy of praise is Nicky Katt (Pictured right... This was the only pic I could find...), playing Howard's partner. He is the perfect sidekick: funny, resourceful, and able to be a pillar of strength for his partner's weaknesses. Katt (Sin City, World Trade Center) is the true revelation here. His performance, in little screen-time, manages to communicate his character's violent past and redemption in body language and punchy buts of dialogue. People will go into this film for the two stars above the film's title, but should pay special attention to Katt. This film shows great promise for a potential star on the rise.

So, the final question is: Is The Brave One worth my $10 bucks? To which I reply: Yes, it's the type of mainstream Hollywood "big idea" thriller that manages to be both entertaining and provocative. It won't top many year-end lists, but the actors' alone place this one in the "Solid" category. It isn't great, it ain't bad, it's solid. And with the way Hollywood is running these days that ain't too much of a negative.

It's also better than Shoot 'Em Up, if that helps.

3.5 out of 5