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The Brave One

directed by Neil Jordan

starring Jodie Foster, Terence Howard

Warner Bros

The Brave One is the newest film project starring the great Jodie Foster, arguably the most important actress alive today, and it may well be her finest moment to date. Not only is it the best mainstream movie of 2007, it is surely the most important, because it touches on themes chillingly close to the lives of every American.

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Foster plays Erica Bain, the host of a radio show on the fictionalized version of New York’s NPR affiliate. A brutal assault in a Central Park tunnel leaves her fiancй dead and her in a coma for weeks; she awakens to a delicate, tentative rebuilding process that any victim of violent crime can empathize with. That process is accelerated as she decides to buy a gun. After balking at the city’s ultra-strict laws, including a declaration that she won’t survive to the end of a 30-day waiting period, she instead buys an illegal 9mm, whose illegal nature serves to drive much of the subsequent action.

The plot is deceptively simple: Bain becomes a vigilante, and each extra-judicial killing makes her feel more empowered, even as they wear away at her basic sense of self. Fellow Oscar-winner Terence Howard plays the homicide detective investigating the killings, which all presume to be the work of a man; he is also in charge of Bain’s own case, which goes nowhere until near its resolution sparks the film’s denouement. Neil Jordan, best-known for The Crying Game, is the director, but the movie’s look, feel and pacing betray Foster’s singular influence.

Foster has built her career, in large part, around nuanced portrayals of damsels in distress. One of her earliest roles was as a child prostitute in Taxi Driver, the film that nearly incited the assassination of President Reagan a quarter-century ago. She won the Academy Award for playing a besieged rape victim in The Accused. Twice, Foster has played mothers fighting defensive struggles, once in the action thriller Panic Room and soon after in Flightplan. It’s enough to make one wonder if her periodic gravitation toward such roles is motivated by any real-life dramas of her own; certainly the publicity surrounding John Hinckley’s obsession with her rubbed her wrongly, as she has never spoken about it on-the-record. If nothing else, Foster deserves credit for being one of the most authentic feminists in the movie business today.

What makes the film so important is its subject matter. Already, numerous critics have disparaged The Brave One as a glorification of vigilantism; its themes of justice and retribution are off-putting critics whose time, presumably, is better-spent extolling the virtues of whatever noxious slasher flick is currently in theatres. The contradiction is stark, and the popular reaction speaks directly to the film’s pressing relevance. To read the average review, one would think the film is little more than a grisly revenge epic on par with the Death Wish series, rather than a sublime rendering of complex characters and motivations that even exceeds the brilliant Road To Perdition.

Put me on the record as one who openly and unreservedly believes in vigilante justice, and who supports all righteous efforts to that end. The nation’s law-enforcement community is overwhelmed. They are stuck having to enforce countless bad laws, which drain resources and energy from the only fight that really matters now—the fight to stem the surge of predatory violence in our homes and on our streets. Increasingly, grizzled veterans of police forces around the country are throwing up their hands and professing abject defeat, as Philadelphia’s chief of police did recently by asking for 10,000 civilian volunteers to make unarmed patrols of that city’s most dangerous areas. This is a man so desperate for solutions that he is willing to risk the virtual guarantee of civilian casualties, if it means a possible drop in the murder rate, however marginal.

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Mass media has played a decisive role on the wrong side of this epic struggle, a role its auteurs appear to relish. Gangsta rap has been advanced as the most “authentic” expression of the African diaspora, as if the sins of long-dead whites justify the constant exploitation of living people. Most recently, the “Stop Snitchin’” movement has been used to play urban blacks against each other, with almost the entire black intellectual class on one side of the debate and a bunch of sorry minstrelized rappers on the other. A predominately white, overwhelmingly liberal media establishment has rushed to endorse “Stop Snitchin’” in their pitiful attempt to appear hip and distract the population from the ongoing disintegration of America’s culture, its economy and its military posture.

The latest gruesome trend, propagated by Hollywood, has been the stylized brutalization of young women in so-called “horror” films. The only thing truly horror-inducing about them, besides the acting, is the knowledge that major studios shell out millions by the hundreds to produce this filth, and mass media pawns the stuff off on adults and children alike as “art” and “free expression,” both of which are presumed to be sacrosanct regardless of the consequences to society.

It will be very interesting to see how the next round of Oscar balloting goes. Let me predict now that The Brave One will be snubbed entirely, and the awards handed out to blatantly inferior productions. Hollywood seems to prefer Foster as a victim, as opposed to a phoenix rising from the ashes of a shattered life. The media establishment that lionized Howard for glorifying the pimp subculture will rush to ignore him when he plays a cop torn between his job and his conscience. Next spring, Hollywood will face its own greatest test: will they offer some reward, any reward, to a great film with a positive, albeit unfortunate, message, or will they expose themselves yet again, once and for all, as rubber-stampers for anti-American, anti-human sentiment?

We shall soon see!

The Brave One: thebraveone.warnerbros.com