It pains me to say it, but Neil Jordan’s new film, the vigilante flick The Brave One, doesn’t really merit much of a mention in the pages of Reverse Shot, so this blog blurt will do. This hurts because this is a film from a director we really, really, really respect. Rarely does a filmmaker of Jordan’s gifts plummet so drastically off the edge of good taste and judgment as he has here; I haven’t read an Armond White recouping mission yet, but Jordan defenders (of which I have often been one) may have to do some serious scrambling, digging, and wishful thinking here.
The only excuse for the film, which doesn’t let Jordan off the hook one iota, is that the film is so clearly another in a long line of Jodie Foster vanity projects, apparent from the flattering dialogue (one character calls her “skinny but with a nice ass”…impossible the character would know since she was sitting down during the entire scene) to the Sarah McLachlan tunes on the soundtrack (taken from Jodie’s latest mix CD?). Foster is not just a formidable screen presence but also possibly the only over-40 actress who can still, consistently, open a film at number one at the box office based on her star power alone: that’s an astonishing feat and nothing to be sniffed at. As evidenced from interviews, she tailors projects to her liking, changes scripts and sculpts stories and characters to fit her world view and the needs of her persona. Foster undoubtedly had as much say in the resulting lopsided catastrophe of The Brave One as producers, writers, and the woebegone director, who must have felt a serious ego-clash with his own. None of this is to disparage Foster, who remains mesmerizing onscreen, and who has an amazing ability to remain an icon of female individuality in a dream machine where wives, prostitutes, and slutty gfs are the norm. Yet the film’s inability to sufficiently complicate the Foster image is its main downfall, as its repetitive, dully filmed (paranoia = tilty camera!) Death Wish structure allows her to kill a parade of muggers and nefarious baddies who, always at the last minute, say or do something which validates the audience’s blood lust—the most egregious: when a couple of subway-riding black punks, who really only seem to be after some kid’s iPod, turn on Foster with a blade and ask her if “she’s ever been fucked by a knife”? Blammo.
Even more egregious than the film’s moral simplicity and visual uninspiration, though, is the sheer stupidity of the script. Nearly every line has a Haggis-like mix of overexplanation and political self-righteousness, even contriving Foster as an NPR-like radio personality so that she can wax poetic on the “disappearing New York City” (which includes that old chestnut, little Plaza Hotel-dwelling Eloise) and, when she starts killing, on her own “stranger within.” And when the radio show is opened up to live call-ins, we get, naturally, a flood of stock actor voices regurgitating conveniently opposed views to denounce or praise the actions of the infamous vigilante crime-fighter–for some added topicality, someone says, “It’s like what’s going on in Iraq!” Well, no, in fact. Not at all. The biggest eye-rolls come courtesy of Terrence “baby wipes” Howard‘s detective (“the only living cop in New York,” as my friend chuckled), who literally is on every crime scene of Foster’s random killing spree: whether it’s on the Upper West Side or Roosevelt Island, they always conveniently seem to be in his jurisdiction.
Furthermore, the ending is so risible, illogical, and morally and racially dubious that it could never be mistaken for anything other than thoughtless Hollywood hackery. I won’t give it away, lest someone wants to experience some incredulous gasping guffaws. Rarely does a film with such formidable talent feel so defeated, weak-willed, and confused. The film’s success might encourage Jordan to keep taking for-hire projects (hopefully to fund his long-gestating Borgias project), but one can only hope he’ll be more discerning next time; even his less-than-worthy earlier films like Interview with the Vampire and In Dreams showed off both visual invention and a tantalizingly idiosyncratic world view, despite their tendencies toward narrative incoherence. The Brave One is a craven mess, lacking in any of the deeply human qualities that its director usually effortlessly conveys.