Saturday, February 16, 2008

the kind of weird one, kind of...

I want to write a bit more about Steve Gerber and post some stuff from some of his comics, and I will in the days to come, but before I learned of his death, I was planning on posting a review of the film "The Brave One," so that's what I'm going to do tonight. Dig it?

As she approaches middle age, actress Jodie Foster has become increasingly enigmatic. There was, in the roles of her youth (Taxi Driver, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, the Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, Candleshoe, Freaky Friday etc.) a sense of openness, I suppose coming from her characters' precociousness, and Foster's ability as an actress to give highly naturalistic performances. Since "The Silence of the Lambs," there has been a sense of distance to her characters that is, I suppose by the nature of being distant, extremely difficult to get a bead on. Foster gets a lot of mileage out of her steely gaze, and her ability to seem put upon and in control simultaneously.

For the most part, the films that Foster appears in these days aren't especially good, but are generally quite interesting. In several recent films, she has been cast as a victim, not necessarily of a specific aggressor, but of elements of modernity, which are often treated with a certain ambivalence and ambiguity. There's the titular Panic Room of David Fincher's film, which provides Foster with both a safe haven and a kind of prison. Likewise the jumbo jet of "Flightplan," designed by the Foster character in the film, representing her achievement but, again, representing a kind of prison.

"The Brave One" is similar if even more ambivalent and vague in it's representation of modernity. In some ways, one could view Foster's home/prison construct in this film as the ever-changing isle of Manhattan itself (I can sympathize), but other elements of the modern, and specifically media, abound. Foster herself is a radio personality, when she and her boyfriend are attacked in Central Park, the aggressors videotape the assault on a flash-DV camera. Television, Ipods and Cell Phones all make appearances as well. What this all represents, though, the film seems unclear of.

Actually, I was prepared to pretty much trash this movie when I started watching it. For the most part, "The Brave One" is little more than a 21st Century knock off of "Death Wish," coached in an air of solemnity and self-importance. Foster and her boyfriend are attacked in the park by a gang of Latino thugs. The boyfriend is killed and Foster becomes immobilized by urban paranoia until she gets a gun and begins taking the law into her own hands. There are very specific visual references made to the many urban paranoia vigilante pictures of the 1970s and 1980s, most obviously "Death Wish" and of course "Taxi Driver" (Foster's first shooing, like Travis Bickle's, is to thwart a bodega robbery, though here an element of domestic abuse is thrown in- the villain, oddly enough, is played by NYC independent filmmaker Larry Fessenden), as well as, surprisingly enough, Abel Ferrara's "Ms. 45," from which a few shots are copied nearly identically.

Of course, the New York City of 2007 is very different from that of 1977, or 1987 for that matter. Urban crime is way, way down, which makes on wonder what the relevance of a movie like this (eventually the film comes to acknowledge this, thankfully, when a cross-section of New Yorker's opinions on the vigilante action are broadcast on Foster's radio show). In truth, it isn't especially prescient a topic. Of course, street crime still exists, people still feel victimized at times, still feel afraid, but really our fears are on a grander scale these days, post-9/11 youknowwhati'mtalkingaboutsowhyreallybothergoingintotoomuchdetailwarterrorfearsuicidebombingsblahblahblah.

This overriding irrelevance and the general solemnity of the film, which I should note was directed by Neil Jordan, generally no slouch filmmaking wise, are its greatest flaws. The thing about movies like "Death Wish" and "Ms. 45" is that they were basically trash. Intelligent, well-made and even insightful trash, some of my personal favorite trash, but they were still pretty trashy movies. Making a film that tries to elevate this genre years after the fact just comes off as kind of silly, but "The Brave One" fails to recognize its own absurdity or irrelevance enough to do anything interesting with either. Like I said, as I started watching, I was pretty much prepared to hate this film.

About halfway through, however, the film really comes into its own as Foster shares a series of increasingly personal scenes with a cop played by Terrence Howard. Here "The Brave One" reveals its greatest strength, as an actor's picture, with Foster and Howard giving really quite amazing performances and playing off one another expertly. Though a cop, he proves to be very tender and understanding (presumably in juxtaposition to Foster's intellectual liberal who proves capable of cold-blooded murder, which of course was the entire point of "Death Wish," though this film seems to be a vigilante pic for liberals, wheras the earlier film was something of a refutation of pacifism). The friendship between the two characters provides the film with its emotional core and gives it the weight the rest of the setup is otherwise lacking. It's truly impressive to watch the two of them interact, particularly in a scene where Foster, on her way to a kill, calls Howard, who she catches reading in bed, half-asleep, and we really get a chance to see both of the character's vulnerabilities and tenderness, as well as their fondness for one another.

In the end, "The Brave One" is, performances aside, really nothing special, but it's not so bad either. One uncomfortable issue the film really fails to broach is that of race. Howard, of course, is African-American, and Foster's boyfriend is played by North Asian Naveen Andrews (well, actually he's British, but of Indian descent, you know what I mean, anyway he's the guy from "Lost" and "Grindhouse"). These casting choices seem to be calculated to offset that this is basically a film about a wealthy white woman shooting and killing mostly pretty impoverished ethnic minorities. Her attackers are Latino, and represented entirely without redeeming characteristics, and she offs a gaggle of boringly stereotypical black teens on a Subway train (shades of Bernard Goetz, and "Death Wish," as well as the 1967 film "The Incident," although in that film the punks were white and the victims black, but anyways...), also shown to be basically evil. She kills a swarthy, coked up Arab as well (a scene lifted from Ms. 45), though in doing so she saves the life of a young, smacked-out Latina. There's also the painfully stereotypical wise, older African woman who lives in Foster's building, and gives her advice about life and love and shit like that. Basically, there are a lot of stereotypes running around this film, made all the more apparent by the very unstereotypical performance and characterization by Howard. So, I dunno, there's that...To be fair the issue of race, though certainly an issue, is far less problematic than in, say, Joel Cocknocker's "Falling Down" from the 1990s, in which put upon white middle class Michael Douglas enacts violent vengeance on all the various minorities getting in the way of his getting breakfast at MacDonald's at 11:15 even though they stop serving at 11, or having to pay a dollar for a Coke in a Korean grocery, or what the fuck ever. Compared to that, this is fucking "Eyes on the Prize."

Anyway, I didn't wind up hating "The Brave One," which is too bad because I think the review I could have written calling it out on what a piece of shit it is would have been much more interesting and funnier than this kind of ambivalent one. Maybe there's just too much love in my heart, or something. But it's also kind of an ambivalent movie, so I guess you reap what you sow, Neil Jordan. (Actually, I think Neil Jordan is a pretty interesting director). Anyway, I'm at a loss for an ending here (the ending of "the Brave One," by the way, is actually kind of welcomely unexpected, by me anyway, and provides another great scene between Foster and Howard, even if it does ultimately seem to suggest that she was basically justified in going around shooting all these people, but I guess this is a Hollywood picture and we're supposed to be left feeling good about our main characters, and I guess we sort of do, or something). What was I saying? I think it's bed time. Rent this one or don't. You'll be impressed or disappointed depending on how much you care.

Until next time...

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