A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this dark, mature revenge drama uses brutal violence and subjective images to play up its dire emotions. Within the first few minutes, a young couple is horribly attacked by a gang in a scene featuring hard hits and kicks, blood, and screaming. Subsequent violence includes loud and ferocious shooting, stabbing, beating, cars crashing, and a body that's been thrown from a high parking garage floor (viewers don't see the throw, but they see the body). Hospital scenes feature close-ups of bloody bodies and faces. There's some kissing, plus a sex scene (intercut with the violent attack) that shows bare breasts/nipples. Language is fierce, including multiple uses of "f--k."
What's the story?
At the beginning of THE BRAVE ONE, radio personality Erica Bain and her perfect fiancé David (Lost's Naveen Andrews) are brutally beaten by stereotypical-looking gangster kids. When she awakes from her coma, Erica learns that David is dead, and she's beset by fear. Erica buys a gun illegally -- and, before she even has time to practice with targets, is caught up in a convenience store shooting. She makes a split-second decision, shooting the shooter before he can kill her, the unfortunate witness. Here's where The Brave One goes loopy. Where once Erica waxed poetic on her radio show about New York's variety and surprises, she now laments the menace she sees everywhere. "It is horrible to fear the place you once loved ... I always thought that fear belonged to other people, weaker people. But when it touches you, you know it's been there all along." The entire city becomes a mirror of Erica's vision. Wherever she walks, a punk, a pimp, a thief, or some other degenerate is lurking. As she shoots more bad guys -- all guys, all stereotypes -- she grows more self-possessed and aggressive. Erica has support, most preposterously in the form of a neighbor lady who virtually sanctions her violence and most frustratingly in the form of the cop on her trail. Careful, decent Mercer (Terrence Howard) is still mourning his recent divorce -- and pursuing a murderous white executive who traffics drugs and guns and now has custody of a stepdaughter who "knows something." Mercer shares his pain with Erica, she doesn't quite admit her own sins, and they develop a disturbing friendship based on lies and agreements to lie.
Is it any good?
This movie is terribly titled and audaciously plotted; the best thing, and maybe the only good thing, about The Brave One is Jodie Foster's performance. She skillfully pieces together another complicated, determined character trying to make sense of a chaotic world. As Erica Bain, she's alternately steely and scared, restive and perplexed. But if such characteristics have become typical of Foster's recent work (Panic Room, Flightplan), Erica also recalls one of the actress' earliest and most haunting roles: young Iris Steensma in Taxi Driver. At first, the connection, across so many years and movies, seems startling. But there it is: Erica in short hair and a patterned T-shirt, her smallness emphasizing her toughness. For an instant, when her shoulders slouch just slightly and her eyes dart, she could be Iris, looking warily at frightening savior Travis Bickle. But in The Brave One, she's all alone.
The movie has garnered attention for featuring a vengeance-minded woman, since that role is usually reserved for men in movies. But The Brave One almost more interesting for what it doesn't do so well. In making Erica into that familiar character, the film misses a chance to explore how vengeance works, what makes it seem right or righteous. Erica's reactions are mixed: Her newly confident walk is juxtaposed with her concern that her "hands don't shake" when she fires her weapon. It's as if you're watching the effects of all that abuse and violence on 12-year-old Iris, now an adult who sees payback as costly but necessary. Travis Bickle also thought he was on a moral mission to "clean up" the city. But he was only one element in a process, part of the depravity, desperation, and fear he so despised. Erica says she feels like a "stranger" to herself, but her movie makes her conventional, even correct, in her assessments. And that's more frightening than Travis ever was. The film amplifies the drastic changes in Erica's sense of self ("I miss who I was with him") and place with point-of-view tricks: The lens tilts and seems to warp as Erica tries to walk out of her apartment for the first time, the soundtrack is blurry, shadows engulf her. Her anxiety is made concrete when the detectives working her case prove less than interested. And with that, the movie changes too, from a contemplation of loss to a vigilante fantasy.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the concept of revenge, which the movie revolves around. Does it make you feel better to "get back" at someone who has wronged you? Is violent vengeance ever justified? Parents, talk with your kids about the difference between real life and fantasy -- even teens. Point out that consequences exist -- even if it makes you feel humorless. The fact that violent movies stimulate parts of the brain is worth a reminder. Also, how do Erica's efforts to "clean up" the city streets challenge gender expectations? Why do so many people assume the killer is a man?
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