Monday, March 24, 2008
MINI REVIEW: THE BRAVE ONE (**1/2)
Neil Jordan's THE BRAVE ONE (**1/2) is the first real let down I've experienced from this excellent writer/director. This eclectic Irish filmmaker has had a remarkable career; his highlights include MONA LISA, THE CRYING GAME, INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, THE BUTCHER BOY, MICHAEL COLLINS, IN DREAMS, THE END OF THE AFFAIR, THE GOOD THIEF, and BREAKFAST ON PLUTO. Those are just the ones that I have seen. A few have been solid, a few have been great, and he's made a couple of masterpieces I think (THE BUTCHER BOY, THE GOOD THIEF, and BREAKFAST ON PLUTO are pretty much perfect). Always stylish with his visuals and always thematically interesting, Jordan is a filmmaker usually concerned with his style just as much as his story. With THE BRAVE ONE, last year's thriller with Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard, he's made the most overtly commerical film of his career, and one of his least interesting. The seen-it-before set-up has Foster's character, Erica Bain, a NYC radio show host, getting viciously attacked along with her soon-to-be-husband (Naveen Andrews from LOST) by a couple of gang members. He's killed; she's left in a coma. Once out of the hospital, Erica has troubles readjusting to regular life; every footstep she hears behind her is threatening and every time she leaves her house she's afraid something will happen. All of this is realized wonderfully by the masterful cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, BIG FISH, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT), whose prowling camera glides along with dutch-angled grace as Erica tries to regain her emotional and pyschological footing. All of that stuff is very well done in a creepy, sad way. Erica then illegally buys a gun and becomes a city-wide vigilante, taking justice and the law into her own hands. Howard turns in another classy performance as a homicide detective trying to put together the pieces of all the murders, while simultaneously getting to know Erica after she reaches out to him for help. The film has a potent, if cliche, narrative drive; how do you recover after a traumatic event and how do you exact revenge on the ones that have wronged you? Those elements have to remain truthful and become cathartic for the characters, and the audience, by the ending. Sadly, THE BRAVE ONE, which feels oddly truncated in some spots, doesn't get deep enough with its ideas. We get a bunch of ridiculously plotted sequences of Erica being in the wrong place at the wrong time (how many violent incidents can one woman randomly witness?!) and her violently contending with New York City scum. And the predictable ending negates one of the main characters' central, moral codes; what should have been a tough, challenging ending is made pat and easy to swallow. Boooring. Unlike superior revenge fantasies like MAN ON FIRE or even KILL BILL, you don't ever really care about what's at stake, and the conventional ways that Jordan directs from Roderick Taylor and Cynthia Mort's script feels uninspired at almost every turn. Sure, the action scenes have the requisite visceral jolts and Foster and Howard turn in reliably solid work. But in today's movie climate, for a revenge movie to stand out from the pack, you need to transcend the genre via the screenplay (ala NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) or do something extremely exciting from a style point of view (MAN ON FIRE, KILL BILL). I must add that Nicky Katt, recently seen stealing scenes in SNOW ANGELS, steals a few from Howard playing his detective-partner. His character is wasted overall but when he appears on screen listen for a few great one-liners; this guy needs to be the second string guy, not the third or fourth! So, if you're a fan of Foster, or revenge movies in general, THE BRAVE ONE isn't a total disaster. But it's no great shakes either.