Anyone who has seen Jodie Foster in the 1976 horror film The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is familiar with her deft ability to accommodate both quivering vulnerability and spooky homicidal impulses.
Foster's latest, The Brave One, is a more cautionary brand of murder story, despite its placement in an obsessively revenge-dominated cycle of American cinema from The Birth of a Nation to Death Wish.
With a nod to New York's other infamous cinematic vigilante Travis Bickle, writers Roderick and Bruce Taylor reconceptualize the American revenge film with former Taxi Driver child-victim Foster as the avenging angel.
An NPR-style DJ whose radio show pays tribute to the romance of the city, Erica Bain's (Foster) sense of place and identity is shattered after a vicious gang attack that leaves her fiance dead. Terrence Howard, in one of his most interesting roles lately, is detective Sean Mercer, who begins to suspect Erica is taking her rage out on the city streets. Along the way, he brings a mesmerizing blend of sexual attraction and caution to their relationship.
It is clear that connecting to female rage was part of the appeal of The Brave One for Foster. Despite some good liberal anxiety about the soul death that attends any murder – whether for fun, greed or revenge – Foster also enjoys the cathartic bullet-spewing privilege of any male action hero. For the most part the sight of a woman, especially one as teacup delicate as Foster, at the business end of a pistol is an unsettling reminder of the discomfort female rage provokes.
Foster's gripping performance even amid moments of clichéd violence reminds us of her unique star power, a power that transcends the momentary narcotic of great beauty with something more ferociously human and exposed to the world. Her presence lifts The Brave One from revenge schlock onto a higher plane.
Channeling her intense energy to the act of payback, Foster is a far more nuanced and morally ambiguous lady killer whose troubled relationship to violence passes like a bank of clouds across her face.
The Brave One. 4 stars. Directed by Neil Jordan. Stars Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews. Rated R. Opens Fri., Sept. 14. At area theaters.
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