The Brave One is reminiscent of the 1974 Charles Bronson movie Death Wish. Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain, a radio DJ who captures the sounds of New York, "the safest big city in the world." Engaged and planning a wedding, when she and her fiance walk their dog in Central Park one night, they are brutally attacked by three muggers. Her fiance is killed. She is left for dead and the dog is taken.
Erica recovers after three weeks in a coma, but she is no longer the same person. Physically, the bruises have disappeared, but mentally she is still broken. She cannot leave her apartment. The same Jodie Foster who walked the mean streets of New York as child prostitute Iris (an Oscar-nominated role), in Scorsese's 1976 Taxi Driver, can now only stand in fear looking out her apartment window at these same streets as Erica.
Finally, she summons the courage, but only to look for a gun. Lacking the required license, she is denied a weapon, but cannot wait 30 days. So, she buys an illegal gun. Never having handled one before, she is given a short talk-through a box of bullets. Now she is ready to face New York again.
Nominated for a Golden Globe award, Foster communicates the fear that can enshroud a person after experiencing violence. Erica says to her radio listeners, once working again, "I always believed that fear belonged to other people. Weaker people. It never touched me. And then it did. And when it touches you, you know... that it's been there all along. Waiting beneath the surfaces of everything you loved."
One evening, she witnesses a murder in a convenience store. When the killer hears her and knows a witness is present, it is kill or be killed. She uses her new gun for the first time. She rushes home to wash off her guilt in the shower, clothes and all. But this killing turns the tide for her. No longer the fearful victim, she becomes the night-walker vigilante, hunting criminal low-life. Since the police are not finding her fiance's killers, and literally have no time for her, she becomes a vigilante, taking the law and justice into her own hands. As the tag-line for Tombstone (recent movie review) said, justice is coming, only this time it is to New York and in the hands of suddenly strong Erica Bain.
Terence Howard enters the picture as Detective Mercer, called into to find this new killer. As Erica begins a "cleaning up" of the city, Mercer finds more and more clues. And, of course, their lives coincide. They become acquantances, and slowly friends. But as the dead mount, they do speak, pointing fingers and clues. It becomes a game of cat and mouse as Mercer suspects Erica is more than she claims.
The movie moves to a climax where the result is known but how it will leave Erica is unclear. There is a twist that is implausible that closes the movie in a "too-neat" way. Life is simply not this clean. An interesting movie, it has too many unrealistic plot points. How can Erica go from never handling a gun to sharp-shooter in a couple of days, without any practice? How can she befriend the only cop in New York who seems to care about crime and its victims? How can she become a stranger to herself, yet embrace this stranger and come to live out the stranger's desires?
The Brave One raises some great ethical questions, though it does not really answer them all, and those it does it seems to answer in a superficial manner. How many wrongs does it take to make it right? If the law is hindered or even hand-cuffed from getting the bad guys, shouldn't it be OK to execute justice as a private citizen? Unfortunately, Erica is not a private citizen. She puts herself outside the law when she buys an illegal weapon. She crosses a line, and then continues on this path. She does have a conscience, and when she succumbs to the guilt of her crimes and goes to confess to the police, they do not want to listen. So, ethically if your confession is not heard is that a sign that you can, should or must continue? Biblically, to kill a person in self-defence is not murder. But to put yourself in a position to have to take such action is questionable. To go looking for trouble with intent to kill -- is that murder?
The bigger question raised here is, Is vengeance OK? According to Paul, who addresses this very question, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay,"says the Lord. On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' " (Rom. 12:19-20). As much as it may feel frustrating to see justice thwarted, it is unethical to take it into one's own hands. We cannot be judge, jury and executioner. Eventually, God will enact justice on all unjustice done on earth. It is His right and position to do so; it is ours to leave Him room to do so.
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs