The answer to the question may be Jodie Foster who stars in The Brave One. It might be Neil Jordan for taking on the direction. Both of them risked a critical mauling, but seem to have been rescued at the pass by the great American audience. I’m not sure if it is the prospect of this audience or the film itself which frightens me more. I’ve rarely been so exercised by a film.
I’m a Jodie Foster supporter, though I haven’t seen that many of her films. I could say much the same about Neil Jordan, whose Hollywood pictures have never attracted me as much as the Irish/British ones. Putting the two together should promise something worthwhile. And indeed, for most of this film, Foster is excellent and Jordan provides several standout sequences. The script, however just isn’t up to the job for me. As several critics have pointed out, the problem lies somewhere in the film’s reference to genre repertoires. If The Brave One is judged as a ‘revenge’ thriller, it falls far short of the narrative economy and sheer drive of Abel Ferrara’s Ms 45. I’ve not seen Death Wish, but I’ve read suggestions that it too is superior as a genre/expoitation film (whatever may be the worries about its politics). The Brave One wants to be more than an exploitation film but it lacks the clear sense of purpose that a film like A History of Violence offers. Instead, it features various subplots like the potential romance between cop and victim/avenger (prompting references to Jane Campion’s In the Cut, a film which itself has genre problems, but which overall is more coherent) and the cod philosophy associated with a protagonist who is a very rare breed, a radio soundscape designer cum commentator. These aspects of the film mean it has the potential to be an interesting character study.
But I have to own up. My real problem is with American politics and gun control (the lack of it – the Jodie Foster character gets around it immediately). As a European, I just can’t take seriously a film with no sense of moral purpose whatsoever apart from the belief that this ‘good person’ can do whatever they need to do to regain their confidence after a brutal attack. So, people are killed as if they were not human beings and a supposedly liberal character and a police officer can ignore the law without any sense of loss or any impact on their sense of moral well-being or mental health. In 1983, Tony Garnett, best known as a producer for Ken Loach, directed his second feature, Handgun, set in America and featuring a woman who is raped and who buys a gun seeking revenge. I don’t remember the film in any detail, but I’m sure it was a considered argument against the use of firearms. In one of the more obvious role models for The Brave One, the Scorsese/Schrader Taxi Driver from 1976, there is a single major shootout, a psychotic protagonist and a deeply moral and disturbing take on American urban culture at the time of the withdrawal from Vietnam. In The Brave One there is a mention of Iraq and a character representing the terrors of wars in Africa where children are armed and trained to kill their parents (I’m assuming the character who makes this comment is from Sierra Leone). There are, I think, eight killings in The Brave One that are apparently ‘justified’.
If you want to get depressed, read the IMDB comments. The first one I read that made a concerted attack on the film’s politics as rightist ended up by claiming that it would be supported by “rabid feminists”. As the Americans say, ‘Go figure!’.