The Brave One is a character study as well as a commentary on the vagaries of revenge, fear, violence and the pursuit of redemption. The film is both intelligent and well-acted, and it deserves a viewing.
Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) is a radio host who spends her days documenting the sounds of New York City, then editing them into on-air contemplations of the city and its history. One night while walking through Central Park with her fiancée David (Naveen Andrews), the couple is attacked; David is brutally assaulted and Erica is hospitalized. She awakens weeks later to find her fiancée dead and the police less than interested in bringing his killer to justice. Erica attempts to continue living her life as she did before, but the attack has left her emotionally traumatized to the point where the only feeling she has on the streets of the city she once loved is fear. She eventually procures a gun out of fear that she will not survive unarmed. She is quickly forced to put it to use (in self-defense) when she shoots an armed robber as he attempts to hold up a convenience store. In the process she discovers that the act of protective violence she committed offers more than physical self-preservation; rather, the use of violence provides her a cathartic outlet for the fear and anger that remains from her fiancée’s death.
Though Erica begins by retaliating against people that create fear in others, the film remains focused on the emotional undertones of her story rather than turning into a formulaic action film. Erica never becomes a Charles Brosnan type (though she isn’t too far from Travis Bickle). The Brave One examines Erica’s grief and gives her enough time to breathe and cultivate the emotional paranoia that ultimately gives her the resolve to kill. The film is less about the actions she commits than the emotional state she must inhabit in order to commit them. Erica’s furious emotion and violent resolve isolate her, and though she still continues to work her day job, emotionally she lives on the fringes of society.
The only person that Erica creates a connection with is police detective Mercer (Terrence Howard), the lone cop who is serious about his job and cares a great deal about catching criminals. He shares the same goal that Erica does when it comes to dealing with crime; they differ only in motivation. Erica engages in violence against criminals as a form of catharsis while Mercer does it because he wants to make the world a better place. Though they both desire to protect innocents victimized by fear, Mercer is able to remain at a distance emotionally while Erica is incapable of doing so.
The detective takes an interest in Erica’s case and becomes involved (platonically) in her post-attack life. Mercer also begins investigating the vigilante killings that Erica commits, not knowing that she is responsible. Though this suggest a forced convergence of events, the film is smart enough to let the characters take control of the final act rather than utilizing contrived plot devices. Ultimately Mercer is faced with a complex question in light of the vigilante killings: is it wrong to hurt those that maliciously hurt others?
The actors Foster and Howard do a brilliant job in constructing and exploring the emotional nuances and subtleties of their characters. Detective Mercer could have easily become victim to the “heart-of-gold” cop cliché but Howard is able to craft his character in such a way that he seems genuinely human rather than a cinematic caricature. Foster gives an excellent performance, on par with her role as Clarice Starling from Silence of the Lambs. She makes the transition from emotionally traumatized human to angry vigilante painfully raw and believable. Amidst the violence and chaos that her character dives into, Foster never loses track of who her character is.
The Brave One is a smart and engaging take on a painful topic. The film requires patience but if you give it a chance I promise that it will grow on you.