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'The Brave One' (**)

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Posted: Friday, September 21, 2007 10:00 pm

There's no question that Jodie Foster is a fine actress. In fact, she is perhaps one of the very best actors working today. Very few performers can match her range, and even in supporting roles, she routinely commands attention away from her co-stars. There's a magnetism to her work - a deft mix of defiant strength, innate vulnerability and old-fashioned sex appeal that makes it impossible to take your eyes off her.

There's only one problem: Too often, the movies she makes are not worthy of her presence. Her last two films - "Flightplan" and "Inside Man" - were both mediocre, and if it weren't for her impressive performances, both would have qualified as bad movies. Her latest, "The Brave One," is no different.

Foster stars as Erica Bain, a New Yorker whose deeply felt relationship with the city is the subject of her popular talk radio show. Her romantic view of the city is shattered one night as she and her fiancé, David (Naveen Andrews), are brutally attacked in a park by a group of thugs. She's badly beaten, and David doesn't survive the assault. Grief-stricken and fearful for the first time in her life, Erica buys a black market firearm to protect herself. The weapon comes in handy shortly after when (quite coincidentally) she witnesses a murder and must defend herself against the gunman.

Though the perpetrator left her no choice but to shoot him - and, since her weapon was illegal, leave him for dead - Erica is understandably sickened at the prospect of being a killer. But in the end, didn't her actions serve the greater good? Erica thinks so. Thus, she accepts her new role as avenging angel, and begins to intentionally put herself in dangerous situations so she has the opportunity to turn the tables on her tormentors. These instances of street justice spark the attention of Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard), a loyal listener of Erica's show who vows to find the vigilante killer at all costs.

"The Brave One" could have made for a fine exploitation film, or a great psychological portrait of a woman unhinged. But apparently, director Neil Jordan never quite decided what kind of film he wanted to make. The result is an awkward mish-mash of crowd-pleasing revenge spectacle and overly stylized melodrama that has nothing new or interesting to say about its subject - which is unfortunate, because the complete ineffectiveness of our justice system is the most important issue facing America today. It's refreshing to see a Hollywood drama that embraces the concept of vigilante justice (on a theoretical basis, anyway), but the film's thematic boldness doesn't make up for its lackluster execution.

Like "Flightplan" and "Inside Man," "The Brave One" also features a completely ridiculous conclusion that negates any credibility the film might have earned up to that point. It's as if the screenwriters approached the end of their story and didn't know what else to do, so they tacked on a blood-soaked denouement that may please some audiences, but betrays everything we've come to learn about one of the film's key characters. It's really quite inexplicable, and if I didn't know any better, I would suspect that Foster is now in the habit of signing onto projects prior to reading the last 20 pages of the script.

"The Brave One" is rated R for graphic violence, language and sexual content.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jwallis@runbox.com.

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