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My favorite movies of 2004 and 2005 (Kinsey and Brokeback Mountain, respectively) were not art-house films, but movies in general release at the local cineplex. Major film studios are only out to make a buck, but they occasionally make good movies, and they rarely make great movies. However, every rule has its exception, and The Brave One strives to be one of those rarities. I can already say the movie, arty without being over-the-top, is one of the best films of 2007.

At first look, The Brave One doesn’t seem to offer anything different from similarly themed movies. Erica (Jodie Foster, the cutest she’s looked in years, spunky and with a different hairdo) is a radio host who is engaged to the love of her life. When they walk their dog late in Central Park one night and dream of their future wedding, a gang destroys her fiance and beats her to a bloody pulp to the point that audience members simultaneously groaned at the shot of her in the hospital. Months later, she shoots a man in self-defense and is worried it is a sign she is a product of the violence she experienced earlier. Erica then starts to take the law into her own hands by killing those who are hurting others, and all these events snowball into a frightening conclusion.

Sounds familiar? Maybe it doesn’t bring to mind a specific movie, bu the scenes play out in an almost cliched manner, and later developments of revenge are slightly synonymous to the slew of “torture porn” horror films dealing with the audience getting off on, well, torture. These opening scenes, including the first shot (that of a New York skyscraper’s windows that reflect distorted images of the city and ominously tells the audience to expect an illusion or something abstract), however, are just material to get the story rolling. Aside from the subtle foreshadowing and hints of the film’s conclusion, the first fifteen or twenty minutes have no measure for how original and brilliant the rest of the movie is.

Neil Jordan, the film’s director, constantly alludes to other movies, probably because they make up a large part of our culture. When Mercer (a cop played by Terrence Howard) warns Erica that he knows she is the vigilante the police have been searching for, we see a shot of their hands touching that is identical to a shot in Silence of the Lambs, when Clarice (also Jodie Foster) is forced to leave Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). The gang scene in the beginning is reminiscent of the hobo beating at the start of A Clockwork Orange. The plot of The Brave One is a basic reworking of classic revenge movies like Death Wish. These suggestions not only make reference to past movies but also assign the audience a mindset for these particular scenes, or even the entire film.

About halfway through the movie, there is a disturbing scene that involves people calling Erica’s radio show to talk about the vigilante killing criminals in the city. Only one or two of these callers mention that this above-the-law individual is just as bad as the crooks being killed. Other callers actually praise the killer, saying how wonderful it is that somebody is cleaning up the city (especially since the cops aren’t doing a good job). A female caller even wants to give the killer her phone number, which forces Erica to leave the recording session. What scares her (and what is reflected by our society) is that there is an audience for this kind of material.

The ending is going to be a point of discussion for a lot of people. At first it’s unnerving, and I was lost: After a few movie final shots and fully digesting the scene, it is clear Jordan is speaking against the general audience, meaning the audience that doesn’t truly understand the movie. The real audience for The Brave One doesn’t cheer when Erica fires a gun or when she says something witty to someone she’s about to blow away, but the general audience does. An adept movie viewer will notice the consistent use of recording devices (like one of the gang members taping the opening fight with a camcorder and Erica recording natural sound for her radio program, both alluding to the mass media) and an audience’s reaction within the movie (when people call Erica’s radio show), some to a reverent, disturbing degree. The real audience understands there is a problem when revenge thrillers use violence as an answer to pain from a traumatic event, and the general audience to these movies applauds as if inspired. The Brave One recognizes this audience reaction and brings it vividly to life. The real horror is not seeing violence on-screen but seeing how people react to violent revenge movies and may even be inspired by them.

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  1. […] The Brave One – Poor reviews, poor box office, but maybe audiences didn’t catch its anti-torture-porn subtext (at least what I perceived to be an anti-torture-porn subtext). […]

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