Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown
New York radio personality Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) has gone to a dark place. The survivor of a brutal mugging in Central Park that left her fianc David (Naveen Andrews) dead and herself comatose for nearly a month, Erica has become so afraid to leave her apartment that we see the hallway appear to close in on her as she approaches the door.
When she finally does make it to the street, every footstep, every person, is a potential threat. She's so paranoid and terrified that she heads to the nearest gun store, and does what any paranoid and terrified woman would do when informed that there's a 30-day waiting period for a gun to defend herself from creepy strangers: She follows a creepy stranger, who apparently deals in black-market weapons, down a dark alley.
Regardless of your social politics, The Brave One warrants scorn for a perfectly valid reason: As serious dramas go, this one is almost unbearably stupid.
It begins, at least, with an idea that should be compelling. Utterly transformed by her violent ordeal, Erica struggles to find a way to continue a life that feels completely controlled by fear. Director Neil Jordan effectively conveys Erica's topsy-turvy world, while the script hints at a grim cost to her soul for taking that black-market 9 mm and becoming a dark angel of street justice.
Erica's improbable jaunt with her friendly neighborhood arms dealer is only the beginning of the film's parade of inanities. It's a horrible tragedy when an individual like Erica is present just once at the scene of a violent crime. But when Erica faces two more shortly thereafter, it becomes obvious that the screenwriters have simply affixed a huge lightning rod to the top of her head.
This is completely separate from the leaps of logic that lead NYPD Det. Shaun Mercer (Terrence Howard) to begin suspecting Erica is the mysterious vigilante. Or the happy coincidence that, once Erica tries to hunt down her three attackers, she finds them all hanging out at the same building and with her stolen dog.
The shame of it is how much talent is wasted on something so thick-headed and mean-spirited. Terrence Howard is as talented an actor as you'll find, but his character is a thankless one a stereotypical divorced, disillusioned cop whose third-act personality shift violates his entire story function. Foster can be tremendously effective, but here she seems to be relying almost entirely on the pinched, wide-eyed expression she employed extensively through her ordeals in Panic Room and Flightplan, making her look like a 19th-century schoolmarm witnessing a barn fire.
When Howard and Foster connect, it provides a rare occasion in The Brave One when it feels like something real is going on.
But then all you need to do is wait a few minutes, and you'll be returned to a world where there's a psycho on every corner just begging to be taken down. The drama that could have been a smart, complex study of feeling impotent in the face of evil takes an idiotic walk down a dark alley with Erica, and never comes back.