Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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OMGWTFLOL: The Brave One (2007)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 12, 2008

“Dares to deal with the darkest human impulses in serious ways and would rather leave us disturbed than relieved or self-satisfied.”

When I was in High School, I was obsessed with The Messenger, an 80s blaxploitation flick starring Fred Williamson that a friend of mine had randomly found in Blockbuster once. It starred Mr. Williamson as an ex-burglar, recently released from prison and wishing to make a new start on life with his drug-addled longtime love. His idyllic existence is cut short when the dealers his belle had been mixed up with murder her, prompting him to get strapped, go vigilante and (successfully) take on the entire drug industry, single-handed. Without exaggerating, I’ve probably seen the movie 35 to 40 times since then (my friend claimed to have watched it close to a hundred times), as it became the go-to bad movie to watch whenever me and my friends got together. We’d pore over it time and time again, sapping every last bit of hysterical awfulness to be found in its ludicrous script, scenery-chewing acting and endless supply of technical gaffes. No comedy–not even The Big Lebowski–puts a smile on my face anywhere near as large as this movie does.

I only mention this (aside from the fact that I’ll take just about any excuse to talk about The Messenger) because I think The Brave One–last year’s tale of a woman who turns to vigilantism when the law fails to adequately punish the three hoods that beat her up and killed her fiancee–might actually be worse. Oh, sure, it probably doesn’t feature any performances as ridiculously incoherent as Godfather and Rocky alum Joe Spinell’s turn as super-ethnic drug czar Rico. Dario Marianelli’s score probably won’t sound as badly dated as William Stuckey’s Messenger work (which makes Giorgio Moroder’s contributions to Scarface sound like John Williams by comparison) does now. And as far as I could tell, there were no scenes in The Brave One where the entire camera crew’s reflection was visible in a car window.

But I tend to rate movie success with the highly flawed formula of (Ambitions + Pedigree) / (Achivement of Ambitions) = (Success). The Messenger, for all its many flaws, was not a terribly ambitious movie, nor did it have much creative or star power behind it (in fact, Williamson starred, produced, directed and wrote the movie’s story, making him something of an Orson Welles for awful 80s blaxploitation). The Brave One, on the other hand, stars Esteemed Actors Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard, is directed by Serious Filmmaker Neil Jordan, and is awash with that most cred-begging of filters, that of the Post-9/11 Overtones (another, more reliable filmic equation for you: New York Setting + Violence + One Non-White Person in Cast + Post-Date Past 2001 = POST-9/11 OVERTONES). It attempts to do what the above quote claims the movie does–to provide a thoughtful and thought-provoking take on the well-established pulp genre of the vigilante film.

Not so much. The movie is neither hard-hitting nor disturbing, and provokes few thoughts besides “how in the hell did this movie ever fool ANYONE into thinking it was good?” The whole thing feels sort of like what an episode of Law & Order would look like were it produced on the Lifetime channel–vaguely gritty, but sensationalistic, overcooked, and utterly impossible to take seriously. Jodie Foster does her best to look fragile, vulnerable and conflicted while murdering various social malcontents, but no amount of Oscar wins buys you enough credit for your performance to survive a movie this terrible. Meanwhile, her interactions with cop Terrence Howard, meant to convey an Out of Sight-like chemistry between two troubled souls, are about as electric as an Amish village (although they’re still a whole lot better than Howard’s interactions with partner Nicky Katt–sample dialogue exchange: “This guy’s got a rap sheet longer than my dick!” “In other words, no priors?” HO!)

The real joy of the movie comes in Foster’s interactions with the criminals she dispatches. Y’know, I’ve lived in New York for four years without encountering a life-threatening situation even once, but in the space of what seems like one week, Jodie gets caught in a gang beatdown, a convenience store murder/robbery, a subway mugging and attempted rape, and a prostitution / abduction ring. Of course, Jodie doesn’t just plain out go looking to kill these people (which would be Wrong as opposed to Morally Gray)–they always make the first advances, and then what’s a girl to do except to start blasting some baddies? Of course, it helps that these dudes are all Very Bad, spouting instant classics like “have you ever been fucked by a knife?” and calling Foster a “super-cunt,” and of course, it helps that the cops are totally clueless, on the hunt for some sort of Man Killer, because there’s NO WAY A PERSON WITH A VAGINA COULD BE COMMITTING ALL THESE HORIRBLE CIMRES?!?!?

Then there are the scenes that no movie with any sort of pretentions to seriousness should ever consider including. The muggers on the subway steal some guy’s mp3 player, after mocking him for listening to Radiohead . When they see Foster–who, by the way, is clearly such a smokin’ hot 45 year old that no red-blooded street tough alive could hope to keep it in his pants–one says something akin to “How ’bout giving me some more Radio-head?,” marking what surely must be the first time anyone has ever used Radiohead to sound either sexy or intimidating. Later, the mp3 guy from the subway is called in to work with a sketch artist at the police station. Describing Foster, he mentions that she had “Kate Moss titties” and “some ass.” This is both patently untrue–Foster’s curves were never particularly remarkable and certainly have not been enhanced over time, like the guy could’ve seen them anyway from her sitting secluded in the car corner–and utterly out of place, reminiscent the scene in Crank where the Chinese girl interviewed about Jason Statham’s public screwing of Amy Smart is clearly too turned on to commentate objectively. Hey, Neil Jordan–you can make a movie that’s deep, dark and different, or you can make Bangkok Dangerous, but man has yet to discover how to make the both in one movie.
The greatest moment, though, is easily the movie’s climax. Foster tracks down the three cholos that fucked her life up and peaces two of them with little difficulty, practical or moral. But at the height of her confrontation with gangbanger #3, Terrence Howard shows up to ruin the fun. As he talks Jodie Foster into putting down her gun, I was praying to myself, Let him actually encourage her to kill him. C’mon, he’s tired of his black-and-white moral code and has started to things differently. It’s the one level of hilarity the movie has yet to ascend to, and the movie will be a complete waste of time without it. Sure enough, Howard hands Foster his gun to shoot the last baddie with, to make a more plausible story for the cops and allow Foster to ride unsuspected into the sunset. YESSSSSS.
And it was a hit too, sort of, right? I smell a franchise. The Braver One? The Brave Two?

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