Judging by the poster and trailers for 'The Brave One,' was I wrong to expect a truly subversive, kick-ass vigilante movie? Hyped as a distaff twist on 'Death Wish,' the promotional images of Jodie Foster, gun in hand as she mows down bad guys, got me jazzed up for a film that might do something interesting with a long-disreputable genre. Too bad the final product is a tonal mess and morally suspect. This is another A-list studio picture that's really just C-grade trash tarted up with big-names and snazzy production values. 'The Brave One' is as exploitative as any cynical grindhouse flick, but it lacks the courage to be honest about its motives.
Had Charles Bronson starred, it would be hard to distinguish the plot of the ‘The Brave One’ from that of any of the 'Death Wish' pictures. Foster plays Erica Bain, the host of a successful New York radio talk show. When she and her fiancee David (Naveen Andrews of “Lost”) are brutally attacked by a gang of thugs in Central Park, resulting in David’s death, Erica retreats into a spiral of unrelenting fear. Then, only weeks later (in the first of many coincidences), Erica witnesses a brutal murder at a convenience store and totally snaps. Whipping out her shiny new gun, she mows down the perpetrator, then takes to the streets -- like Bronson, she is now an avenging angel, protecting the helpless and wasting any bad guys that get in her way.
As the press reports on the actions of New York's apparent new savior, idealistic Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard) takes notice of the reign of terror. Digging deeper into the crimes, and realizing that the killer may be a woman, Mercer quickly suspects that Erica may be the likely culprit. As the plot grows more and more improbable, a final, shocking "twist" brings the pair together, leaving Mercer to act as Erica's judge, jury, and possible executioner.
The early scenes of 'The Brave One' didn’t gel for me. Director Neil Jordan ('The Crying Game,' 'Interview with the Vampire') never nails the proper tone. He paints the Erica-David romance in completely one-note, gooey-romantic terms, but frankly, Foster and Andrews have zero chemistry. Still, I could potentially buy into such mawkishness had Jordan and screenwriters Roderick & Bruce Taylor properly developed Erica's descent into madness, but her change is so rapid and so contrived that there is simply no emotional foundation for her sudden impulse to declare war on all low-lifes. With Foster never able to create a believable, three-dimensional character, all of the film's subsequent efforts to make resonant cultural statements ring hollow.
'The Brave One' also wallows in the stuff it is supposedly rallying against. To his credit, Jordan doesn't linger on the gore, but he subtly stokes the audience's hunger for brutality by staging Erica's vigilante activities as crowd-pleasing moments. The effect is morally bothersome. It's fine that the film asks us to decide if Erica is a hero or a villain, and lets us debate the sanctity of her actions, but to do it by creating rah-rah moments, with Foster shooting hoods on subways, while other characters deliver long, laborious speeches decrying the very same violence, just feels false.
I won’t ruin the film’s surprise by discussing it’s plot twist resolution, but I will say that it really pissed me off. It's a total cheat. The decision Mercer makes in the final minute runs so completely contrary to how his character has been set up that it violates the basics of cohesive storytelling. In hindsight, the filmmakers obviously shoehorned most of the plot developments into the script to serve its "ambiguous" ending, rather than letting the concluding events naturally unfold from what came before. What a crock!
With its A-list cast, fine production values, and smattering of effective setpieces, 'The Brave One' is not a "bad" movie in the traditional sense, but it's certainly not a good one. The film squanders a great premise, as well as the opportunity to explore the hot-button issues of violence, justice, and vigilantism, while failing to work on any level -- not as a tragic romance, not as an action flick, and not even as a lurid little B-movie. As compelling cinema, 'The Brave One' is hardly brave at all.
Warner presents 'The Brave One' in 1080p/VC-1 video (on the HD DVD side of the combo), framed at 2.40:1. (Note that this encode is identical to the previously-released Blu-ray.) It's not as gritty a transfer as you might think, but a very polished and good-looking presentation that is sure to please.
Funny enough, the photography of 'The Brave One' may actually be too slick for its own good. There is a slight bit of graininess to the picture, but otherwise it's so glossy that I longed for more of the exploitation-flick feel of a 'Death Wish.' Colors are vivid and clean, with a noticeable skew towards blues -- the film is bathed in them. Fleshtones are as good as possible considering the overt stylization. Given the film's big budget, even nighttime scenes are quite well-lit, so shadow delineation is thus superior and detail is generally strong. Only occasionally did image depth seem a tad less dimensional than the absolute best high-def I've seen, but that's a small complaint. This is a very, very nice transfer from Warner.
'The Brave One' includes a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit), along with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) and subtitle tracks in English, French and Spanish (again, audio options mirror the previous Blu-ray). As with the video, this is a very slick-sounding movie, with an intriguing mix of almost ethereal music and narration along with rougher action elements.
The unusual tonal shifts of the soundtrack are evident right from the get-go. Jodie Foster's narration fills the speakers, underscored by a somber bit of electronic melancholy that will anchor most of the picture. As the film grows darker (and the bullets ring out), the surround channels become more alert and alive. There are nicely directed (but relatively underplayed) uses of loud discrete effects, but otherwise, the rears only hum with subtle ambiance, and rarely rumble.
Fans of the vigilante genre will probably be underwhelmed by such a restrained mix, but this is still a first-rate technical presentation. The clarity, smoothness, and warmth across the entire dynamic range are very inviting. Low bass is appropriately tight and forceful, but again, never overbearing. As the narration is like a whole separate character in 'The Brave One,' dialogue is rendered with great fidelity, and is always prominent in the center channel. The source is also impeccable, with no aural deficiencies. A very strong, if often subtle presentation.
Considering the fact that 'The Brave One' is an A-list Jodie Foster vehicle, it's surprising that Warner hasn't done more for the film's video release. This is a pretty anemic set of extras that offers little beyond the promotional material. (Note: Subtitles on the featurette only include English, French and Spanish.)
'The Brave One' should have been a knock-out -- Jodie Foster as a pissed-off vigilante with a gun, wiping out hoods in New York?!! Sign me up! Unfortunately, the result is a muddled, morally suspect exploitation flick posing as classy Oscar bait. This HD DVD release looks and sounds great, however, so at least the film is presented well. The supplements are certainly lame, but if you are only interested in giving this flick a rent, then definitely don't hesitate. But Jodie, you can do better than 'The Brave One.'
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.