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Take “Death Wish” and retrofit it with a post-Sept. 11 sensitivity and you’ve got the essence of “The Brave One,” a vigilante drama boasting a powerful Jodie Foster performance and carefully weighted direction by Neil Jordan.
Those considerable attributes go a long way in compensating for problematic plot mechanics that ultimately trip up the good intentions, especially in its portrayal of a New York that looks and behaves more like Charles Bronson’s old stomping grounds than its modern-day incarnation.
While Mayor Bloomberg will unlikely be amused, the Joel Silver production, which is being screened as a special presentation at next month’s Toronto International Film Festival, still should pack considerable appeal for fall moviegoers who prefer their hard-hitting vengeance served with a hefty side of introspection.
Foster turns in a compelling, emotionally raw performance as Erica Bain, the host of an NPR-type radio show titled “Street Walk,” in which she shares the recorded sounds and her live thoughts surrounding life in the Big Apple.
One early evening, Erica and her fiance, David (Naveen Andrews), are walking their dog in the park when they’re savagely attacked by a group of punks. David’s wounds prove fatal, and though Erica ultimately recovers after a prolonged stay in the hospital, she’s left emotionally devastated.
Paralyzed by grief and fear, she obtains a gun, ostensibly for protection, but — and here’s where things start getting harder to swallow — Erica unwittingly stumbles across additional random acts of violence and becomes a pretty decent shot in the process.
By the time she tracks down her fiance’s assailants, Erica has become a full-fledged avenging angel.
In the interim, she also has found a sympathetic ear in NYPD detective Sean Mercer (an effectively pensive Terrence Howard), a by-the-book type grappling with his own moral dilemmas whose investigations might be pointing him in Erica’s direction sooner than he’s willing to act.
Watching “Brave One,” it’s hard not to think about “Taxi Driver,” and if, somehow, Foster’s child prostitute could have picked up 30 years later where Travis Bickle left off.
But where the Martin Scorsese film had that complex Paul Schrader script, Jordan’s picture has to make do with a more conventional genre piece written by the father-and-son team of Roderick Taylor and Bruce A. Taylor, and Cynthia Mort, who was brought in to provide a more convincing female voice.
As with some of his best films, such as “The Crying Game” and “Mona Lisa,” Jordan is less concerned about genre technicalities than he is with the moral choices those situations bring out in the lead characters.
In that regard, “Brave One” keeps things intriguing, with Foster’s haunted, fiercely committed performance certain to garner awards attention.
Howard, meanwhile, makes for a thoughtful opponent in this curiously low-key game of cat and mouse, while Mary Steenburgen provides the right balance of authority and concern as Foster’s radio show producer.
Behind the scenes, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, a frequent Jordan collaborator, visually shrouds Manhattan in a foreboding dread, especially during those earlier, unsettlingly lit sequences leading up to that first vicious attack; and composer Dario Marianelli provides the discordant themes that fittingly reflect Foster’s ever-darkening psyche.
THE BRAVE ONE
Warner Bros. Pictures
A Warner Bros. Pictures presentation, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, of a Silver Pictures production
Director: Neil Jordan
Screenwriters: Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor, Cynthia Mort
Story: Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor
Producers: Joel Silver, Susan Downey
Executive producers: Herbert W. Gains, Jodie Foster, Dana Goldberg, Bruce Berman
Director of photography: Philippe Rousselot
Production designer: Kristi Zea
Music: Dario Marianelli
Costume designer: Catherine Marie Thomas
Editor: Tony Lawson
Erica Bain: Jodie Foster
Detective Sean Mercer: Terrence Howard
David Kirmani: Naveen Andrews
Detective Vitale: Nicky Katt
Carol: Mary Steenburgen
Running time — 121 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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