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.