[Screen It]

(2007) (Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard) (R)

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Drama/Suspense: After surviving a random attack that killed her fiancé, a radio personality becomes a vigilante and thus draws the attention of a local detective who's determined to find and stop the killer.
Erica Bain (JODIE FOSTER) is a NYC radio personality who hosts a program called "Street Walk" where she records and then comments on the sounds of the world's "safest big city." Her world is turned upside down, however, when some punks attack her and her fiancé, David (NAVEEN ANDREWS), killing him, and leaving her severely wounded.

After her body heals, however, she's still suffering mentally, a pointed noted by her radio station boss, Carol (MARY STEENBURGEN). Accordingly, and frustrated by the police getting nowhere catching the killers, Erica takes matters into her own hands by illegally purchasing a handgun. When she's in the wrong place at the wrong time, she ends up shooting and killing a distraught husband who's just murdered his wife, and then later does the same to two punks who rob a young man and harass her on a subway.

Careful not to be identified, Erica's actions not only draw the attention of the press who deem that there's a vigilante at work, but also detectives Mercer (TERRENCE HOWARD) and Vitale (NICKY KATT). A by-the-books cop, Mercer has been trying to nail a criminal for years and is worried about the safety of that man's stepdaughter. Nevertheless, his attention shifts due to the recent murders.

In a strange twist of fate, he and Erica become unlikely friends, a development that means it's only a matter of time before her continued vigilantism draws him to her, something she secretly desires as she begins her quest to find and kill David's killers.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Although it's not always been this way, New York City is now considered one of the safest big cities in the world, at least in terms of per capita crime. Of course, that's just a fancy way of saying the odds of something bad happening to you in the Big Apple are lessened simply by the sheer number of people who live, work, and vacation there.

Yet, all sorts of crime, including murder, still occur there in huge numbers that would shock smaller cities and towns, although they're not as high as back in the 1970s when Times Square and the like were in squalor. Nowadays, and after the terrorist attacks in 2001, a different sort of fear now grips the city, leaving residents, workers, and visitors a bit uneasy about what might strike and when.

Moreover, for those who've ever been touched by either form of random violence, fear is a constant reminder of that past event and what danger might lurk around each and every corner. That's a big part of "The Brave One," a post 9/11 vigilante flick that taps into that very emotion and uses it as the catalyst for plot and character development. Some may view it as a women's lib version of "Death Wish," but the fairer sex is just as likely to be the victim of violence as the more rugged, Chuck Bronson types.

Besides the female slant, however, this latest installment of the take the law into your own hands sub-genre -- that follows closely on the heels of the silly Kevin Bacon starring "Death Sentence" -- doesn't really add anything new or, for that matter, interesting to the standard vigilante story.

Working from a script by Roderick Taylor & Bruce A. Taylor and Cynthia Mort, director Neil Jordan does have two aces up his sleeve, though, in the form of his stars, Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard. They play the story's vengeful victim and investigating cop respectively, and both bring far more to their characters than what's presumably been put on paper.

Foster's always had the seemingly innate ability to realistically and compassionately portray damaged characters of one type or another, and she's good once again here, even taking into account the various plot problems, conveniences, and clichés that surround her and Howard's characters. As has been the case with most if not all of his recent cinematic portrayals, the talented actor again makes his character wholeheartedly engaging, all of which makes one wish the screenplay were better, more novel, or at least fresher than it feels.

The likes of Nicky Platt as Howard's cop partner, Mary Steenburgen as Foster's boss, and Naveen Andrews as her fiancé whose murder sparks her Bronsonian transformation are also present, but this really just a two-person show. And the talented thespians make the most of what's been offered to them (although the blasé script makes one wonder exactly what caused them to sign up for yet another trip down vengeance alley).

While it fits her character's profession, all of the voice-over narration by Foster's radio personality character (she goes around the city and captures nat sounds, later adding her philosophical take on them on the air) feels like a bit of a cheat, a cheap and easy way of getting across her mindset, character motivation, and thematic schematics with minimal filmmaking effort.

Then there's the issue of her suddenly becoming a magnet for random violence and thugs around the city. While they serve as both a catalyst and fodder for her new murderous obsession, they come off as more than a bit too convenient. A few simple script tweaks here and there could have remedied that (she puts out a challenge to the punks of the city, she serves as a witness who thus draws the ire of the baddies, etc.), but that doesn't occur, thus making the city's per capita average seem much higher than it is.

All of that's topped off by the conclusion that may somewhat logically stem from everything that preceded it, but still feels inharmonious and more than a bit far-fetched. Perhaps that reaction was due to me imagining a different sort of ending (stemming from Foster's participation in the project, which might make one think a deeper layer of poignancy might surface from all of the vigilante porn). Whatever the case, the ending just didn't work for me, although the apparently cathartic seeking, bloodthirsty viewers at our screening didn't seem to share that gripe.

If not for the presence of the leads and Jordan trying to delve a bit deeper into the emotional repercussions of the vindictive acts, this probably would have been a straight to video effort, joining countless similar projects on the rental and sales shelves. I only wish the writing effort matched that of the stars' performances that end up pretty much being wasted amongst the banality and familiarity of it all. "The Brave One" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 10, 2007 / Posted September 14, 2007

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