The Brave One
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Erica Bain has it all: a popular one-woman radio show about life on the streets of New York City, a devoted fiancé named David and a loyal German shepherd named Curtis.
But tragedy shatters that life the night Erica, David and Curtis run into three muggers in a Central Park tunnel. Robbery escalates into a savage beating that leaves David dead and Erica broken. She awakens three weeks later to find everything she'd ever loved gone. Her fiancé. Her pet. Her passion for the city—and for life. Her courage to walk out the front door.
No sooner has Erica (illegally) purchased a gun to allay her fears than she witnesses a fatal shooting in a convenience store. And when the killer comes after her, he's the one who ends up dead. Soon, a similar scenario on the subway concludes when three threatening thugs are mortally surprised to find that Erica is packing heat.
The press, of course, goes bonkers covering this vigilante story. And a detective named Sean Mercer tries to piece together what's happening. Along the way, his path intersects hers, and the loners become fast friends.
But Erica hides her terrible secret: Vengeance has become the only thing she lives for. And as she goes looking for trouble, Mercer closes in on the truth. A final test for both awaits when Erica learns the identity of the men who stole her dog, her husband-to-be and her happiness—and loads her gun.
The Brave One is a story about right and wrong. On one side is Erica, a woman who's increasingly willing to deliver vigilante punishment. On the other is Sean, a cop who's made a career out of letting the legal system administer justice even when he knows it means some criminals will get off. "I follow the law," he says, "No matter how bad I feel about it."
Erica isn't depicted as a victim who's simply infatuated with bloodlust. Instead, she describes her desire for revenge as a "stranger" inside her she doesn't recognize. After the subway shootings, she comments that she could have shown her attackers her gun and they would have let her go. Erica is thus portrayed as someone caught in the grip of something she can't escape. She feels guilty—so much so that she tries to turn herself in. (But a bumbling cop doesn't realize she's confessing.) And she urges a witness to tell the truth about her identity.
It's no surprise, then, that Erica learns to empathize with those living in fear, saying on-air, "I always believed fear happened to other people, weaker people. It would never touch me. Then it did. And when it touches you, you know it's been there all along, waiting beneath the surface of everything you once loved."
Mercer tells Erica that as a rookie he concocted what-if scenarios in his head, including one in which he had to turn in a friend for a crime. He's beginning to suspect Erica, and he intimates that he'll turn her in if she's guilty. (This scene brings into focus the film's final struggle with ethics and morality—a struggle that doesn't end well. More on that later.)
Mercer longs to see the young stepdaughter of a crime boss protected from his violent ways. He suspects she could testify against the thug, and does everything he can to remove the girl from his custody. Elsewhere, when Mercer's partner casually asks what's wrong with divorce, Mercer replies. "Everything. Divorce sucks."
David's mother tells Erica that her deceased son "would be happy that you lived." Erica's landlord says death leaves emptiness inside that can't be filled by revenge. The woman also says, "There are plenty of ways to die. You have to figure out how to live." Erica says of herself after David's murder, "I miss who I was with him." A back-and-forth on-air dialogue includes callers who insist that vigilantism is always wrong.
Erica's wedding plans include, at her mom's request, a minister. After David's death, Erica puts on a cross necklace. She eventually gives it to Chloe, a prostitute whose life she likely saved.
A disturbing scene intercuts footage of ER doctors removing Erica's torn clothing with flashbacks to a sexual encounter. As they cut off her bra and reveal her blood-covered chest, the scene shifts to David's mouth on her bare breast. The images race back and forth, showing doctors' hands tending to her body, then David's hands caressing the same parts of her exposed torso, backside and abdomen. He begins to remove her underwear; the doctors do the same.
Another flashback recalls David reaching under her nightie, followed by passionate embraces. It's implied that the pair has been living together.
In the first attack, one of Erica's assailants paws at her chest. Likewise, an assailant on the subway puts a knife to Erica's neck, then runs it down, menacingly, between her (clothed) breasts. Using the most obscene and violent expression he can muster, the man threatens her sexually.
A subway-shooting witness describes Erica's backside and chest size in lustful detail. Erica wears low-cut tank tops, at least once without a bra. Other women also have a penchant for plunging necklines and tight tops. Sexual innuendo pervades Erica's conversation with a pimp.
An unblinking camera lens witnesses the beating three goons deliver to David and Erica. They pummel the pair repeatedly with fists, feet and a steel bar. Erica is thrown several times into a concrete wall. The melee is made all the more awful by the fact that one of the aggressors films it with a camcorder.
A series of other violent scenes ensues. Erica witnesses an estranged husband shoot his wife three times. Erica shoots him once in the neck when he turns his attention to her, and he crashes into a glass freezer door. Erica shoots three hooligans on the subway. Noticing that Chloe is unconscious in her pimp's car, Erica pulls a gun on the man to free Chloe and herself. A few seconds later, he tries to run them down. Erica shoots him through the window and the car strikes Chloe, breaking her legs.
Erica also confronts a crime boss Mercer had been unable to catch. He comes after her with a tire iron and slashes her arm. Then we see his body on the concrete and hear investigators speculate over what killed him, the head wound or the fall from a parking garage roof. Erica confesses to her landlord—who is stitching up her arm—that she intended to kill the man no matter what he did.
[Spoiler Warning] Erica's descent into vigilante "justice" is complete when she kills the three men who attacked her, each at point-blank range. She shoots the first in the torso. Another gets hit in the eye. And she spills the blood of a third execution-style as he lays at her feet. Mercer is also shot in this scene.
Crude or Profane Language
Characters cough up at least 50 f-words, including about 10 paired with "mother." S-words clock in at about 20. And God's and Christ's names are taken in vain roughly half-a-dozen times. There are also a handful of extremely vulgar references to genitalia. "Faggot" is uttered once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Various characters drink wine, beer and champagne in bars and at an art show. Erica's smoking habit escalates as she tries to cope. She eventually looks in a mirror, however, and stubs out her cigarette, as well as pouring an unnamed prescription down the toilet. The pimp also smokes. And a young man is shown smoking a joint.
Other Negative Elements
After the convenience-store shooting, Erica steals the surveillance videotape. Chloe lies to Mercer about Erica's identity.
When Erica discovers she must wait 30 days to buy a gun, she takes a guy up on his offer to illegally sell her a pistol, ammo and training for $1,000. And she very quickly crosses the threshold between defending herself and actively seeking to punish criminals. That's most obvious when she chooses not to identify her initial attacker in a police line-up so that she can kill him instead.
[Spoiler Warning] Despite Mercer's proclamations that he'd turn in a friend committing a crime, he goes the other way in the end. To help Erica out of her "predicament," the police officer gives her his gun to kill the last of her original assailants. He then has her shoot him with her gun, leaving the weapon with the dead guy, thus framing him for her crimes. She balks, saying, "I only shoot bad guys." He replies, "I've joined that club now."
The Brave One begs the question of whether it's ever right to kill someone you know has committed a heinous crime. And it puts us in the shoes of a victimized woman, who, though she answers that question affirmatively, pays a heavy price for doing so. Indeed, right up until the end, the story would have us believe it's a violent cautionary tale about the cost of taking matters into one's own hands.
[Spoiler Warning] But the good comes tumbling down with the bad when Mercer aids, abets and equips Erica for one final, cold-blooded execution.
This conclusion squanders whatever moral message the film might otherwise have delivered (albeit through a torrent of R-rated violence, sexual imagery and obscene language). We're induced into sympathizing with Erica's plight; but her choice, with Mercer's blessing and approval, isn't the right one. The fact that we're supposed to feel satisfied with this false justice makes the ending of The Brave One all the more troubling.
And it throws the film's title into question. The brave thing to do would have been for Erica and Mercer to trust that the legal system could have satisfactorily dealt with this criminal. Instead, Erica literally blows his brains out in a perversely violent Hollywood ending that's more interested in pandering to "action-crazed" viewers—she tells one of the last criminals, "I want my f---ing dog back" before shooting him in the face—than it is in pondering the morality of justice.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jodie Foster as Erica Bain; Terrence Howard as Sean Mercer; Naveen Andrews as David; Nicky Katt as Detective Vitale; Mary Steenburgen as Carol
Neil Jordan ( )