The Brave One, a bland revenge thriller, actually begins with promise. The opening sequences feature Jodie Foster's character, a radio talk show host, recording the sounds of New York City, examining the ephemeral reverberations the city-goers often miss. It's an interesting concept, but one which is ditched for a brutish and bloody plot that makes attempts at moral reconciliation as nuanced as its initial concept, but fails again and again to deliver on that idea as the movie progresses.
Foster stars as Erica Bain, voice of the popular program "Sounds of the City," renowned perhaps more for her enticingly mellow voice than for her esoteric on-air narratives. When Bain's husband is beaten to death by a gang of hoodlums, Foster infuses her character immediately with a depression and dread and convincingly portrays a woman terrified of stepping into the outside that was once comforting. However, Bain soon purchases a gun, and her world-view abruptly changes; upon killing a grocery store robber, that dread disappears.
The transition is less than convincing and is compounded by her quick allegiance to a self-styled crusade. The story winds down as you might expect, but as moral ambiguity goes, her character wrestles lightly with the horrendous nature of her actions and quickly returns to the streets to wreak more havoc. In the end, Foster, normally a wonderfully talented actress, devolves into a stilted action-heroine that brazenly takes the law into her own hands and barely considers the moral repercussions.
This isn't purely Foster's fault. The Brave One suffers from a tepid script; at points the movie tries to be daring and edgy in a post-Iraq war era while crafting what the writer and director must have hoped would be a morally complex revenge movie. The direction is uninspired as well: slanted camera angles used to convey Foster's dread of the outside world are as imaginative as the film gets. Even the addition of the equally talented Terrence Howard, who lit up the film world last summer with Hustle and Flow, seems lost in his part as if the script he was given at the outset of filming changed irrecoverably somewhere in the process. Through their brief encounters, the audience is supposedly led to believe that Erica Bain and Howard's officer Mercer become close, even pseudo-romantic compatriots. But their actions in the climax seem oddly hollow and unconnected to what came before, as if considerable amounts of scenes between the two were cut for the final version.
The Brave One was undoubtedly trying to be a balancing point to the other vigilante film, Death Sentence, released a few weeks ago, with Kevin Bacon filling the role of Foster's Bain as a bereaved family man unleashing hell on those who have wronged him. It seems that Sentence remains true to its purpose while The Brave One meanders about, attempting at different points to be astute, morally challenging and enjoyable to watch. The end product, however, is rarely any of those things, and instead gives off a haze of ambivalence as to what the movie's purpose is. It's a shame to see such an ambitious acting pair rammed into such a flawed movie. Foster should have spotted a weak film before she performed in it; audiences should do what Foster didn't and avoid The Brave One.