A revenge thriller, painted in black

In 'The Brave One,' Jodie Foster goes all Charles Bronson as a gang victim bent on vengeance.

For those of you who have been hankering to see Jodie Foster assume the mantle of Charles Bronson, look no further than "The Brave One." She plays Erica Bain, a radio host who, when we first hear her, touts New York as "the safest big city in the world." This, of course, is a tip off of things to come.

During a nighttime stroll through Central Park, a gang of thugs kills her fiancé (Naveen Andrews) and leaves her severely maimed. She buys a pistol on the black market and in no time flat it's vigilante time.

Films such as "Death Wish" played into audience fears of urban violence. Specifically, although often in code, they were really about white audience's fears of black violence, black retribution. "The Brave One" isn't similarly concerned with the racial aspects of urban violence, but it is every bit as exploitative as the Bronson movie. The director may be Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game") but the coproducer is Joel Silver ("The Matrix").

From a psychological standpoint, the problem with most vigilante movies is that the killing starts too soon. Because we don't see enough of Erica before the attack, the horror of her transformation is severely skimped. She becomes a vengeful wraith.

Or is she meant to be righteous? Jordan and his team of screenwriters can't decide what they want Erica to be, and their ambiguity is opportunistic. We are free to read whatever we want into her character, thereby conveniently relieving the filmmakers of doing their job.

Eddie's counterpart is Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard), the detective investigating her string of murders. Care-worn and heavy-lidded, Sean is zonked from the get-go. His lassitude is almost comic, although this is certainly not Jordan's intention. Sean does not suspect Erica in the killings. Inevitably they become soul mates.

Foster and Howard are both wonderful actors and they try very hard to make this soul stuff work. But the absurdity of the script does them in. Foster will no doubt be touted for the uncompromising nature of her portrayal, but I wish she had compromised a bit – her brush strokes are uniformly pitch black. This was not the case when she played the rape victim in "The Accused," for which she won an Oscar. Monomania comes a bit too easily to Foster in "The Brave One."

The end result, at best, is high-toned pulp. Grade: D+

Rated R for strong violence, language, and some sexuality.

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