Admittedly my knowledge of British filmmaker Neil Jordan is lacking; I’m more familiar with his older works such as Mona Lisa, his gritty London underworld film from 1986. What he is probably best known for is his academy awarding winning 1992 movie The Crying Game, for which he won the Oscar for best director. His newest film, The Brave One, out in theaters now, is a well-acted addition to the vigilante genre. Despite the way vigilantism is often treated in film—with a flippant sense of approval and a disregard for justice—this movie attempts to approach the subject with more evenhandedness. “Attempts” is, however, the key word.
In this movie Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain, an archetypical liberal artist who has found a way to provide an outlet for her artistic expressions through a radio show she hosts called “Street Walk.” This is not a sensationalized newscast, but rather a program constructed of recordings of city activity intercut with narrated meditations on memory and history. Erica is engaged to a man named David, and although they have different tastes, their deep love is the envy of friends. A walk through the park one night leads to a confrontation with a group of thugs who brutally beat both of them. Erica awakens three weeks later to find that David is dead and she is alone. In an instant her life has changed and she is forced to confront the stranger she has become and the fear that fills her soul. After a bout of sociophobia, Erica arms herself and begins her search for identity and strength.
The film is provocative; it is a confrontation of liberalism in that it is an exploration of the line between the instinctive satisfaction of revenge and the moral questions raised by overstepping justice. Don’t get me wrong; this movie does not moralize. Instead, it forces the viewer to confront and deal with his or her own reaction to the events taking place on screen.
How do we deal with the memory of tragedy? Does revenge offer lasting satisfaction? Can we ever go back to the person we were? Can we absolve ourselves of the loss? The film asks all of these questions but only deals with some; however, even these motifs are ultimately incomplete and unsubstantiated. The film commences with a narration on the importance of memories: how they are an integral part of us, how we should cherish them, and the consequences of forgetting. Yet, this is seemingly abandoned or forgotten midway through as the tone shifts to a search for convalescence through violence: an attempt to fill the hole left by loss. On top of that, the film is implicitly suggesting that this is attainable. On the whole, the fact that these interesting ideas don’t play out leaves the viewer with a nagging sense of dissatisfaction. The voices opposed to our vigilante are heard throughout by faceless extras; our only main character attempting to provide justice amongst the chaos is ultimately too weak a character to uphold that which he claims to firmly believe–he’s no different than Erica.
The film is essentially pulpy exploitation masquerading as serious art. We are supposed to believe that our heroine is consistently in the all the wrong places at all the wrong times, but now packing heat and able to live with the fear. We the viewer are only allowed to engage on a visceral level; it’s not until afterwards that we can distance ourselves from the screen and truly think about where our sympathies lie. It’s startling to realize how torn this movie makes one feel; we are put into the same situation as Erica, an instinctive violent response to our better judgment which seems to only be able to come later when there is time for clarity and rational thought. It’s like when Erica looks into the mirror to find that she can only see a superficial body; the person inside is different—a stranger. Are we the same? It may be this moment of clarity that helps you identify the good points of the film (it is thought provoking), but also makes one aware of the manipulative effect it has on one’s senses. When we sit back we understand that our society’s system of due process, while imperfect, is more important on the whole than wanting to pursue our own individualistic sense of justice.