Life is going well for radio presenter Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) as not only is her public radio show a steady success, but she is due to get married soon, to her doctor fiancé David (Naveen Andrews). They already live together, and tying the knot will bring them all the closer, but there is an incident right around the corner which will tear them apart for good. When out walking their dog one night, David lets it off the leash and the couple lose sight of the animal until they enter an underpass and see that a gang of three youths are holding him - and they mean to keep him, even to the point of attacking Erica and David.
And so with weary familiarity we are back in the vigilante game, only there's a twist in that this is no Charles Bronson figure taking to the streets to clean 'em up, it's little Jodie Foster who after a beating that lands her character in a three-week coma, wakes up to find that she has lost her fiancé, who has died after his pounding. This changes her life forever, as you might expect, but we're not supposed to be cheering Erica on when she crosses the line, we're intended to cheer her on for managing to pluck up the courage to leave her apartment once the physical wounds have healed.
You cannot deny The Brave One is sensitively handled in these scenes where Erica finds her feet once more, and can strike a chord in many who have suffered a trauma, but the difference between her and most people is that most people don't purchase an illegal firearm and set about wiping the scum she feels are responsible for degrading society from the face of the Earth. It's no surprise to learn that this was originally a female Death Wish revenge yarn, because in many ways that's precisely what it remained, adorned with large scoops of mood on top.
It's almost as if director Neil Jordan is strenuously avoiding his film being lumped in with the long tradition of vengeance thrillers in American cinema, "No," this is insisting, "here we have a character study!" After all, Erica is not satisfied in her skin that she has taken to blowing petty criminals away on the subway, and suffers great anguish because of it, so this can't be business as usual, surely? Yet Jordan, even though he takes the pace down to an appropriately funereal rate, cannot escape that template of the crusader avoiding the law to implement their own special brand of justice, and no amount of Foster soulfully gazing into the middle distance will alter that.
The law is represented by Terrence Howard as Detective Mercer, who is working on another case but is drawn into Erica's crimes when they hit the headlines. All the way through we suspect that he knows the vigilante is not a man, but the slight woman who wanders the streets of New York City; she used to do that as part of her job, recording sounds for her show, but now she is taking a more active interest in the place. Mercer is frustrated in the manner of movie cops that he cannot bring a rougher form of score settling to his work, but he is still under the illusion that he is happy to uphold the law as society sees fit. This flies out of the window at the end, where he takes Erica's side, which leads you to wonder if this would not have been more effective as less pretentious and more of an honest all out action thriller with a message. Nicely played and filmed, but too full of its own assumed self-importance. Music by Dario Marianelli.