This Thing, This Stranger: Revisiting The Brave One (2007)

This review first appeared on Filmotomy.com

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A couple months ago, Filmotomy’s own Bianca Garner published an article entitled “Chaos: What Happens When You’re Triggered by a Film?” in Jumpcut Online. Reading it, I hung on every word she had to say about her experience watching a movie that she found unexpectedly personal. Afterward, I found myself wondering if I’d ever had such feelings during a movie. And I couldn’t come up with one.

Then Robin determined that 2007 would be our next Rewind year. Refreshing my memory of what came out in 2007, I stopped scrolling when my eyes landed on The Brave One — the Neil Jordan-directed vigilante picture starring Jodie Foster. In it, she plays a NPR-like radio show host who narrowly survives a brutal mugging that leaves her fiancé dead.

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Prior to my re-watch for this article series, I hadn’t seen The Brave One since it was in cinemas nearly twelve years ago. All I really recalled was enjoying it. I’d been a fan of Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire and In Dreams (don’t @ me) and Foster’s performances in The Silence of the Lambs and Panic Room, so this team-up was a perfect match for fourteen-year-old me.

Cut to December 2018. Walking home one unseasonably warm evening from a neighborhood ramen restaurant, my boyfriend and I were robbed at gunpoint. One guy with a pistol took our phones, keys, and wallets. And our sense of security. This happened on our street, only a block from home, the Friday between Christmas and New Year’s.

In The Brave One, Foster’s Erica Bain obtains a gun, for defense, almost as soon as she’s back on her feet. She does what so many people have told me ever since that I ought to do. But I haven’t — and I won’t — because it would only complicate matters, and only come in handy anyhow if I were to be carrying while finding myself in another terrible predicament. As Erica does, repeatedly.

Like an Agatha Christie sleuth, Erica keeps ending up amid the perilous circumstances of others. In a hold-up situation, she shoots her first perpetrator dead out of necessity (he’d have shot her otherwise), and she feels… mostly good about it. Shaken, sure. But also full of vigor.

Her terror morphs into furor, and Erica becomes an avenging angel for the powerless.

The men Erica kills as the story plays out don’t really matter, not as people. They’re two-dimensional caricatures — stand-ins for the concept of rampant urban criminality, plot devices put in place to deepen Erica’s compulsion to take justice into her own hands. To focus on them, or for Jordan to flesh them out in any way, would distract from Erica’s gradual transformation.

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I don’t think I’m going to become a caped crusader anytime soon. But I am more cautious now. Now, I do and feel things that I hadn’t before: cross the street when a man approaches in the opposite direction, step aside and turn when I hear someone nearing me from behind, keep the scissors within arm’s reach when I’m alone at work with an intimidating customer… Foster tenderly shows us this delicate stage in Erica’s journey, as she believably progresses into a sidewalk warrior.

Foster is a highly intelligent actor. Her cerebral technique really works here, playing a calm radio personality continually nudged into unforgiving killer territory. It’s naturalistic without sacrificing viscerality. Her physical presence shifts over time to reflect Erica’s growing gravitas, but perhaps Foster’s keenest choice is the incremental changes in her voice. Erica’s voice is her livelihood, so the tool her attackers temporarily disarm her of (her initial, silent, return to the mic is downright painful) also becomes a weapon once her trepidation turns into focused anger.

Erica says you become “a stranger” when something traumatic happens to you. Granted, her attack was much worse — my boyfriend is alive, and I was never hospitalized — but I find that, on a textual level, melodramatic. I’m very aware of who I am. I do, however, agree with her, “There is no going back, to that other person, that other place,” line. Because she’s right, I probably will remain a person who constantly scans the vicinity the moment I feel vulnerable.

Circling back to the text, though… The dialogue is expertly constructed and delivered, chiefly the scenes featuring Erica and Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard). Words are Erica’s thing, remember? Having been assigned to her mugging case, the two strike up a bond. Then, Mercer is coincidentally put on her string of killings. And wanting to know what he knows, she plays journalist.  She picks his brain under the auspices of conducting interviews, and he, ever the detective, fires off his own questions.

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So much of what they say is intricately coded, with Erica practically confessing to Mercer, between the lines. Foster and Howard are quite adept with the subtext, sending and receiving messages on multiple planes, in total command of their craft. This focus on character sets the film apart from a lot of the other vengeance thrillers of yesteryear that mainly center on the shoot-em-up aspects of moviemaking. Jordan’s vigilante outing is more human in that regard.

I went into The Brave One this time around with purpose. With a weird, borderline masochistic curiosity, I wanted to see how I’d consume such a narrative today, after what happened. Prepared for it, in a sense having issued a warning to myself, I would say that I avoided feeling triggered. But I definitely got something else out of it this time, viewing it through the lens of a stranger.

Nephew Frank