She-Punisher runs amok in The Brave One

by Glen Baity

Bloodlust is a funny thing. After your first and second kills you’re a mess, throwing up in sinks, sweating profusely, taking showers with your clothes on. Then it gets a little easier. And a little fun. By your fifth kill, you’re a swaggering Dirty Harriett, walking through the bad part of town with a fistful of steel, daring some young punk to take a shot at you.

Or so it goes in The Brave One, a vapid revenge fantasy with a twist: This time, the Punisher wears a skirt.

Jodie Foster plays the oh-so-subtly-named Erica Bain, a public radio host who spends a solid five minutes at the beginning of the film living the perfect life: She’s engaged to the perfect man (Naveen Andrews), with whom she lives in a perfect apartment just off Central Park in New York City.

That comes crashing down one night when a trio of street thugs robs the young couple, beating Erica and her husband-to-be within an inch of their lives. Erica survives. Her beloved does not. This becomes the justification for everything to follow.

Out of the hospital and tired of walking around in fear, Erica buys a gun which, strangely enough, she continually has occasion to use. Indeed, one of the more amazing things about Erica is that, after living more than 30 years in New York with no problems, she frequently finds herself in situations where she’s just minding her business when evil comes knocking. Again and again, in the space of mere days, she has no choice, none whatsoever, but to pull the trigger and flee the scene. This film, truly, is a paranoiac’s wet dream.

Before long, the papers catch wind of a possible vigilante on the loose, and New York becomes enamored of its newest boondock saint who cleans up scum because the police can’t or won’t.

All of the foregoing is complicated by Erica’s budding friendship with the lead detective on the case, played by Terrence Howard. Maybe it’s because of the presence of Foster and Howard, both of them excellent actors, that I kept expecting something more from The Brave One than a body count. Sadly, that never really happens.

The film is presented with a heft and gravity that implies a conflicted soul it does not, in fact, possess in any way. With a title like The Brave One, you might think the movie raises some questions about what bravery is, how it is achieved, what it entails. Those questions are never raised, and about halfway through it becomes clear what the film considers bravery: Erica is the brave one, because she has been wronged, she has a gun and she isn’t afraid to use it. And that’s that.

A film like this relies on an utterly black-and white-morality. You’re a Good Person or a Bad Person, and Good People carry guns to protect themselves from Bad People. If you’re a Good Person, you won’t get shot, at least not by another Good Person. Simple as that.

Except, of course, that it’s not, but you wouldn’t know that just by watching The Brave One. The evil men that meet the business end of Erica’s 9mm, when they get to talk at all, are evil to the bitter end. To drive that point home, the detectives that scour the multiple crime scenes let the audience know that the deceased, in every case, had the proverbial mile-long rap sheets.

Of course, in a country with many thousands of accidental gun deaths each year, one would think a trigger-happy person like Erica would eventually kill an innocent bystander, which might give moviegoers something to discuss after the lights go up. Not in this movie. The gun, like beer to Homer Simpson, is both the cause of – and solution to – all life’s problems.

Every revenge movie ends with the Big Kill, the play’s opening night after a lengthy and bloody dress rehearsal. I can honestly say I was disturbed when the crowd at my screening erupted in applause at the film’s ludicrous climax. Call me a Boy Scout, but the idea of random people adjudicating conflict, at gunpoint and outside of the legal system, is absolutely horrifying; at the very least, it’s something that could quickly get out of hand. But The Brave One, an ultimately shallow and narcissistic movie with no real backbone, never confronts the tough questions. This is sadder still since it seems to regard itself as a serious contemplation of violence and its effects, but at the end of the day, it’s a Schwarzenegger movie starring Jodie Foster, playing to its audience’s worst impulses and never once asking them to question it.

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