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 Carolyn Howard-Johnson reviews The Brave One







The Brave One is Not Brave,

She's Angry and Disturbed


Put aside a misleading title, a couple of inconsistencies, a start that is a tad too slow, and a tendency among reviewers to let movies that come before remakes influence their critiques. That way you'll feel OK about going to see The Brave One.


Erica Bain, played by Jody Foster, is not brave. After a rather long introduction to her character (which is necessary so we get to see her before-trauma self) she is mugged and her fiancé is killed. She's becomes depressed, anxious, angry, borderline-schizophrenic, and goes on a killing spree. That is not brave, it's [psychotic]. To me, brave is an act of courage performed by a normal person.


Bain's mental state, of course, is designed by writers Roderick Taylor and Bruce A. Taylor to render a character who goes on a murderous bender sympathetic. They carefully set up her first killing as self-defense even though she has purchased a gun presumably with revenge in mind. Once started, it gets easier, and Bain's new association with Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard) gives her more fodder for her pursuit of bad guys who deserve what they get.


The writers and director Neil Jordan also mitigate the violence with beautiful language and flashes of tender love scenes. Bain is an essayist who airs her perspectives of New York City on a local NPR-like radio station, where she describes the streets of the Big Apple in poetic terms. A job like this puts her in a perfect position to get the inside story on the murders she perpetrates, but also allows her the sensitivity and fame to reach and touch the heart of clever Detective Mercer. She says things like, "The person who you thought you were can vanish in the blink of an eye," and "It's astonishing to find you are a stranger to yourself." The audience and Mercer have to love her for her depth of emotion, her talent, and that she is doing what thinking people do: searching for understanding.


When Bain buys herself a handgun, she does so in a near-stupor, as if led to it with little control or forethought, but then she happens to have a thousand dollars in her purse for a street exchange. At that point I expected to hate the movie, but Foster and Howard quickly redeem it with acting bound to kick up some Oscar interest.


What I found disturbing was that after all the careful dissection of the psychology of killing, all the meticulous character motivation, and all the interesting editing, the audience cheered the vigilantism rather than reacting to the cerebral examination of the of violence and its subtexts. It seems our culture is distraught, angry, fearful, and has lost its faith in justice. You'll want to see this film so you can have a chat about the state of our society while you nibble on the popcorn you didn't eat during the movie because you were too absorbed, too tense and, yes, too vindictive.


- review by Carolyn Howard-Johnson




Carolyn Howard-Johnson is a award-winning novelist and poet. Her first novel, This Is the Place, is enjoying renewed interest because it is set in Utah, the place that Mitt Romney calls Zion. Reach her at







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