Taxi Driver for the 21st century? No way

The Brave One, 2007

dir. Neil Jordan

Jody Foster

By Peter Hulm

The U.S. love affair with violence, so much more potent than sex, infects even popular films that try to put over a different message.

The Brave One is absurd, even incredible at many points, sustained only by the devastated, unrelenting pessimism of Jodie Foster's performance as a radio reporter who is beaten in a senseless attack that kills her fiancé.

A braver film-maker would have ditched the sub-plot to concentrate on Foster, taking us deep into the world of someone blighted by random violence.

But that would have irremediably shaken our confidence in the capacity of U. S. society to protect us, quite as much as Hitchcock's The Wrong Man, generally considered his most pessimistic and least entertaining film.

Instead, we are stuck with repeated reminders that New York is the safest big city in the world (the New York authorities were deeply involved in the making of the film, even if the topic was not to their liking).

Safest in the world? Don't make me laugh. Foster's character tells a gun seller she needs a weapon because she can't stand another 30 days without self-protection. Someone else sells her a revolver and shells, immediately she leaves the store.

The radio reporter makes her living by walking around the streets and recording its sounds (!). No-one in the most inquisitive big city in the world asks her what she is doing or engages her in conversation. And everywhere she goes after acquiring a gun she encounters violence.

Missing the point

Jordan has an important point to make: victims of extreme violence become different people from before — a different person inhabits their skin, injecting fear into every environment that had previously been a comforting piece of home. And this person, he suggests provocatively, is capable of vigilante violence.

In this film, since it is Hollywood, her first killing has to take place almost by accident in the face of a probable domestic killing. The next killing taps into an almost commonplace urban fantasy about New York, black aggression to strangers on the subway.

Killings 3-5

Then there is the killing of a brutal pimp, a shooting that seemed so irrelevant I forgot it until reading another review. I presumed it was a nod to Taxi Driver, showing the desperate state of a contemporary young prostitute compared to the call girl Foster played in 1976.

The fourth killing is of a crime leader. Here she uses a crowbar, and we know he is really evil because he runs rings around the police to gain custody of the infant stepdaughter who saw him kill his wife, a move undertaken to stop the wife turning state's evidence on him. To each villain the appropriate punishment.

Finally Foster's character gets to kill the thugs who murdered her husband, with a cellphone video of the original aggression to spur us (if not her) on.

Foster's shrewd performance

Does Jordan really expect us not to realize that our emotions are being manipulated crudely? Nothing Foster's character does stems from these proddings.

To her credit, Foster seems not to use these events as cumulative stimulation for her vengeful feelings.

She is first terrified, then zombielike, then coldly efficient.

In contrast to Travis in Taxi Driver, Foster registers this as a sign of her psychological dissociation rather than a channeling of her energy. 

Suicide is not an option

But in this commercially motivated fantasy, the detective she admires for his probity helps her get away with it.

Suddenly the essential message is discarded. She is, in true Hollywood psychiatric form, made whole again, rather than feeling disgust with herself.

Suicide, we must remember, is not a viable plot resolution in the popular American film (compare Claude Chabrol's The Beast Must Die).

Foster seems to be inhabiting a different film from everyone else, someone who understands the true cost of violence. She doesn't need any of the proddings the film-maker gives the audience to stoke up the vengeful fires that burst out when she tracks down her fiancé's killers.

If this is Taxi Driver for the 21st century — and Foster's appearance in both films inevitably calls up the association — it offers violence as a sane response to big city living rather than the city as insane asylum.

Repetition and repression

A police station cop at the reception desk offers the same line of sympathy to everyone who comes in, with a false promise of quick attention from a detective. She even goes to the station twice and meets frustration both times, in case viewers miss the point.

The sanest cop in the precinct, first pictured trying to hold his image of society together against the powerfully violent, warns the reporter he would arrest a criminal even if that person was very close to him, then shows her how to get away with her killings.

The radio station sequences seem in the film only to wish away explicitly any thoughts that mass media will sensationalize and trivialize her experiences, while enabling this solitary journalist to talk her feelings out loud onscreen (into a microphone).

Bad dramatic ideas

Bad 'good dramatic ideas' (apparently Foster's , maybe as a result of the sheer unreadability of the character from outside) don't get much worse than this. Even she can't make this convincing. In fact, she needs only sit silently to make us feel exactly how fast and far she is going down the rabbit hole of her psychological hell.

Jodie Foster has made a career out of never playing cute to the audience whether acting or directing (I'm thinking of the underrated Little Man Tate (1991)).

Remembering that professional effort makes you wish she had taken over this project, too.