The Brave One
Death Sentence was based on a book by Brian Garfield who also wrote
Death Wish, a vigilante tale that spawned a feature film and four sequels in the seventies and on into the nineties. But then vigilante justice films fell out of popularity only to make a double barreled comeback this year.
The Brave One arrives with impressive pedigree: Oscar winners Jodie Foster and Neil Jordan, and Oscar nominated Terence Howard. They rep a higher calibre of talent than a genre film like this usually draws. After all, Death Sentence director James Wan's only claim to fame is creating the horror franchise Saw. But then The Brave One is a genre film that aspires to be something more serious and contemplative.
Like Death Sentenc e, The Brave One opens with an obligatory series of throwaway scenes showing the idyllic, happy lives of the characters whose world is about to be shattered. In both films we are treated to descriptions of the characters' lives as being perfect in some regard. In The Brave One, Foster plays popular radio personality Erica Bain. She's about to marry Mr. Right (Naveen Andrews), a handsome, well-to-do doctor. But late one night in their supposedly safe city of New York, they venture into a dark underpass at the park that would have screamed danger to anyone in one of the Death Wish movies. But Erica and her boyfriend think nothing of sending their dog into the darkness to play fetch. When they seek their pet out they are met by a gang of urban thugs that brutally assault the couple and videotape the attack.
Her boyfriend dies, but Erica lives. The emotional trauma takes longer to recover from than the physical injuries. She becomes overwhelmed by fear and can barely find the nerve to step out of her apartment. In a panicked moment she buys a gun and then in another panicked moment she shoots a man who guns down his wife. And so begins her life as a vigilante walking the streets of New York. A sympathetic detective named Mercer (Terence Howard) takes an interest in her assault case and then begins to wonder if she might be connected to the vigilante crimes.
The Brave One (Warner Brothers)
One of the trio of screenwriters, Roderick Taylor, wrote The Star Chamber. That film was about a group of judges who saw themselves above the law as they convened their own secret court and dispensed justice of their own choosing. That film and The Brave One try to look at the reasons that drive people to this kind of violence and the consequences it can have. Erica tries to examine how the assault changed her life and what it means to respond to violence with violence. But the film only wants to consider the moral implications on a superficial level. It doesn't want to make the issue genuinely complex by having Erica accidentally kill an innocent person. All her victims are guilty of something. And while Mercer tries to be a voice of reason and morality, he succumbs to the improbabiilties of the plot in the final reel.
And that's what really kills the film--the improbabilities that build up. When Erica buys the gun, she's turned down by a legitimate gun dealer and ends up following a total stranger to a creepy, secret location to buy an illegal weapon. But this is a woman who was barely able to walk out her door for fear of something bad happening. So I just don't believe that she would trust someone so easily or venture into what could be a dangerous situation with so little resistance. Then the police are too quick to call her first killing an act of vigilante justice. They walk into the store, see two bodies and immediately conclude it was an angry husband who came in and killed his wife and then he got whacked. To me it seems that the crime scene would suggest it was just robbery. Too often characters make choices that are good for the plot but less than credible in terms of their behavior. This makes the film's attempts at dealing with more serious themes harder to swallow.
Jodie Foster and Terence Howard in The Brave One (Warner Brothers)
The performers, however, almost make us forget the problems with the script. Foster and Howard are a riveting pair. They are smart, low key performers who understand that on the big screen, less is often more. The scenes between the two of them have a quiet intensity and we come to care about them.
The Brave One (rated R for strong violence, language, and some sexuality) starts by wanting to challenge genre conventions but in the end it only falls victim to them. It turns into a film that lacks the action to satisfy multiplex audiences and lacks the depth and complexity to be an art house film.
Although male revenge tales are more prevalent, there are plenty of female revenge/vigilante/retribution pictures out there. Here are a few.