When I sent Him Indoors out foraging for a DVD yesterday and he came back with The Brave One starring Jodie Foster, I could have quite cheerfully shot HIM in the head. After all, had I not literally just posted how sick I was of vigilantes? Does this man not read my blog at all? I know we’re married and everything so he could just ask me, but really: if you have a web presence, the least your spouse can do is check – maybe just once a week – what you’ve been going on about. Right?
To be fair, I had heard good things about this movie: James Moran had been particularly glowing in his praise, but everyone knows he has much dirty lurve pending for Miss Foster. And it was directed by Neil Jordan, one of my all time faves – which Him Indoors shrieked indignantly when I chastised him for bringing said DVD home.
However, for me it was the STORY that didn’t appeal: a woman’s fiance is beaten to death (that bloke from Lost no less, it just GETS BETTER! Not…) so she goes on the rampage with a gun. Hmmmm. Hadn’t seen that one before. And oh look: the DVD says it “turns the vigilante movie on its head.” Oh come on. You think you can really impress me? Not only are there three billion movies of this template already made, I must read easily thirty unproduced vigilante scripts a year, not even joking. I read two only last week for one initiative. In short, I was abolsutely certain that I would not enjoy it. We sat down to watch it anyway of course, not just because it would have been nearly four quid wasted if we hadn’t, but so I could be satisfied that my premature assumptions were justified. Of course they would, since aren’t ALL our premature assumptions 100% on the ball?
Laugh at me, feel free. Finished? Let’s move on.
Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain who survives a senseless attack in Central Park her fiance dies from – but that’s where the similarity to all other vigilante movies that have gone before end. Why? Not because of the impressive twist at the end (watch it if you haven’t), but because of character.
That is what has been missing for me in vigilante movies: yes they had motivation – their spouse has died, they’ve been raped, their child has been stolen, but at the end of the day I just haven’t cared enough about that character or seen into their psyche enough to really understand what they’re doing. After all, terrible things happen to good people all the time, yet only some people take the law into their own hands in the way Erica does. It’s a difficult sell to take this genre down the character route: time and time again we’ve seen these vigilantes as heroes – even cartoons and caricatures if you want to include the likes of Batman – and audiences have previously put explosions and gore ahead of understanding in films like these.
Yet Erica Bain is a normal woman. When she arrives home from the hospital after her coma and discovering her beloved is dead for example, she is dressed in a baggy tee shirt and trackie bottoms and genuinely looks like shit. Which you would. In a lesser film, she would have had a friend bring some nice clothes into the hospital to go home in; she would have worn make up and had her friend do her hair: she probably would have said something cheesy too, like “They can take the love of my life but they can’t take my dignity.”
And it is this lack of “Hollywoodisation” that drives this film and why it works. There is clever use of a non-hysterical voiceover as Erica explores her own motivations and asks questions the audience might be asking themselves. Because Erica is a radio talk show host, there is excellent use of echoing as her show focuses on the “vigilante killer” at work in the city that every assumes is a man. In addition, Erica’s growing bond with a detective as the film goes on might be reminsicent of Heat in some respects – opposite sides of the law, yet mutual understanding – but it does not pay off in the way we might expect, even though the seeds of that cliche ending are sown in the diner around the mid point.
Horror and thriller are genres I adore yet I so often feel let down by female characterisation. I’ve talked plenty here and on other people’s blogs that women have to BE men to be “good” characters: even Ripley only survived the first Alien movie because Dallas insisted on going into the vent before her. Would have done that had Parker been second officer? I doubt it.
I loved The Brave One then because Erica is symbolic not just of a woman in peril who gets herself out of it, but ANY person who has been made to feel vulnerable; the fact then she is female is essentially a bonus. There is none of the usual tripe where she has to act like a man; yes she uses violence, but as the woman who lives downstairs says sombrely, “Anyone can become a killer.” There are some critics who attack its lack of pace and at 117 minutes it is quite long; there are others who call it overwrought, overblown or lacking in credibility. However, I think we should celebrating the fact that we finally have a female character who is not a) really a man with boobs or b) needs rescuing by a man or c) both.