What in the world is wrong with Jodie Foster? For years, arguably decades, her career has seemed haunted by her turn as Iris Steensma in Taxi Driver, as if the fictional experience of playing a pubescent prostitute had left real-life psychic scars. The theme of victimhood, and specifically predation on women and children, has been a staple of her oeuvre, first in upscale genre films such as The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs and, more recently, in glossy dreck like Panic Room and Flightplan. After those last two films, it was beginning to seem that Foster had become incapable of playing anything other than a Single Mother protecting a Helpless Child from Bad Men--a suspicion that her off-key performance as a Manhattan fixer in Inside Man did little to challenge.
But now Foster has followed her psychological arc to its predictable conclusion, from victim to protector to avenger, and the result is not pretty. The Brave One, the Neil Jordan-directed vigilante flick of which she is the titular star, is a pious little scrap of sleaze, a film that pretends to furrow its brow thoughtfully over the vengeful violence in which it happily wallows.
Foster plays Erica Bain, the voice behind an arty New York radio show called "Streetwalk." (No, no hookers involved. At least not yet.) One night, when she and her fiance David (Lost's Naveen Andrews) are out walking their dog in Central Park, they are beset by a band of leering thugs, who brutally beat Erica into a coma and David into his grave, gleefully filming the whole thing. Once Erica recovers, she buys herself a gun and embarks on a Bronson-like massacre of the usual litany of Big Apple baddies: a gunman in a Korean deli, a pair of after-hours subway predators, a drugged-out pimp intent on collecting drugged-out girls, and a sneering white businessman (who is also, of course, a drug-dealer and wife-murderer and has just recently gotten custody of his sweet, vulnerable little stepdaughter). When not busy popping caps in asses, she conducts a quasi-romantic (though ultimately chaste) game of cat-and-mouse with Mercer (Terrence Howard), the detective investigating the vigilante killings.
Foster's performance will hold no surprises for anyone who saw Panic Room or Flightplan: She stretches her fine features tight in grief and in terror; she stares into the middle distance in shock; she allows herself a few tears before Doing Whatever's Necessary--in this case, killing the motley monsters she seems to encounter at every turn. Early in the film, when she tries to purchase a handgun and is told the waiting period is 30 days, her response--"I won't survive 30 days"--seems laughable. But the Manhattan Jordan conjures is one indeed requiring bravery, an urban jungle in which death by blade or bat or bullet seems the almost inevitable consequence of being out after dark.