'The Brave One' is a classic revenge film

Despite its patina of cultured civility, "The Brave One" is firmly rooted in that staple of Hollywood, the revenge film. It's a template used again and again, predicated on the understanding by writers and producers that if done well, it will resonate with audiences for two reasons. First, we all know, however secure we might feel, that circumstances can pull back a curtain and reveal a predatory, brutal side to the human condition. One that we would prefer to ignore. The other is that if we are violated, perhaps horrifically, then retribution is righteous and called for.

Predictably, as the story goes, the wheels of justice move all too slowly, if they move at all, and the satisfaction so desperately desired proves to be elusive. Better to get an illegal 9-millimeter handgun, purchased furtively in a back alley, and then begin to think about finding the perps. If other urban cockroaches happen to get in the way, well, they're simply collateral damage.

The movies that took the retribution genre to new heights were "Death Wish I-IV," a franchise starring Charles Bronson, made during the halcyon days of "law and order" when cities such as New York were jungles, and citizens walked the streets at their peril. A more recent film, starring Sally Field and Ed Harris, was "An Eye For An Eye." In many ways this script mirrors "The Brave One" to the point that the writers flirt with outright plagiarism. But then this fundamental plot has been tweaked so often by Hollywood screenwriters, who can seriously protest.

In many ways "Eye For An Eye" is better than "The Brave One," if judging the two films strictly on the raw plot structure of horrible events, followed by glorious revenge. One reason is that the rapist in Eye is not on the periphery or generic but known and loathed.

Both Foster and Field are determined and very effective. In other words, the brave ones. Foster has, of late, perfected a persona that is highly controlled and grimly intense. In "Panic Room" she hovers between outright panic and calculated lethality, a role she then burnishes in "Flight Plan" where she once again stood balanced on an emotional precipice between loss of control and an ability to act boldly and decisively.

Films like "The Brave One" are playing unabashedly to our baser instincts, no matter how they are dressed up. Jodie Foster, portraying a D.J. on a New York Public Radio station, confidently roams New York City gathering material for her show. Her fiancee' is a doctor. They are deeply in love. And then one summer night, while walking in Central Park, he is brutally killed in a viscous attack that is difficult to watch. The rest of the film explores Foster's recovery, both physically and mentally. Clearly no amount of therapy will satisfy. The support of friends, while acknowledged, has small effect. But a 9-millimeter, now that has possibilities.

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