Tuesday, September 18, 2007

THE BRAVE ONE (2007)............6.5/10

"An apple not far enough from the tree."

THE BRAVE ONE shifts between being pointedly brilliant and being a mere caricature of brilliance. To begin with flattery, the cinematography is a head above the rest. Rousellot has the camera deftly swaying as though on the deck of a ship in deep swells, capturing a severity and psychology without being oppressively analytical when cast on its existentially wounded vigilante Erica Bain. And the crowning achievement in editing is the early montage in which passionate detail shots of Bain and her lover David are juxtaposed with moments of a likewise vulnerability with her brutalized body being stripped by doctors after the assault in the Park. It’s a stroke of genius that passes all too soon and is never repeated.

In terms of performance Jodi Foster (Bain) and Terence Howard (Mercer) make a masterful pair, each sustained by their own particular grace and enhanced by the other’s. Though they have just met, they appear to know each other with a subtle intimacy. Despite this honest connection they are equal in their manner of concealment and restraint, which is a credit to the film overall. Even the most intense moments of vigilantism are carried out with a brand of relative quietude and brevity. Unfortunately the manner in which these scenes are aesthetically and tonally constructed is marred by the simplistic if not tactless nature of their specific content; terrible situations falling into Erica’s lap, bad guys filling archetypes to the brim and saying memorably embarrassing lines like “you ever been fucked by a knife before?” It is these moments, though they get their point across, which nearly destroy THE BRAVE ONE’s dexterity, as though there are two apparent attitudes at the helm of the film, one distinctly more artful and nuanced than the other. Personally, I’m going to side with mind responsible for such greatness as THE CRYING GAME (1992) and MONA LISA (1986).

Ultimately and much to my dismay the film fails, but not before it threads a few strong ideas and performances along its descent. Though brimming with potential (which is why I afford it such a measure of leniency), it comes across as a few drafts short of excellence. Considering its title, THE BRAVE ONE doesn’t go far enough in its deviation from the source. It is notably more intelligent in design and sensitive in psyche and morality than most vigilante films but still trails some of the muck of its predecessors onto the celluloid, anchoring a work of nuance with Hollywood contrivances, least of which is THE BRAVE ONE’s ungainly conclusion, satisfying as it may be emotionally. For the most part Jordan navigates well by the films internal compass, but in its final throws denies its own logic. Instead of an ending that leaves room to breathe or resonates in action rather than narration with Bain’s wayward disposition, the Roderick brothers (I’ll chalk it up to the writers for this one) construct an “all bases are covered” kind of finality, leaving any moral or existential conflicts dead with the body count…and apparently my scathed regard.

I played the fools game with THE BRAVE ONE by which I mean I was driven by high expectation. I wanted a great film and got an OK one. Stellar cinematography, superb acting by the leads, the ever welcome ambivalent sarcasm from Detective Vitale (“Christ on a cracker!”), and the obvious notes of delicate complexity from the hand of Neil Jordan are what buoy what could have been wholly saved by a simple rewrite.

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