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Vigilante Grandmas
by Alyce Shirleydaughter
(The Golden Girls meet Thelma & Louise) (Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "The Brave One"

In order to sell the concept of taking the law into your own hands there are many social and storytelling issues to overcome in order to make it acceptable. That is, if you want to reach a demographic wider than 11-year old boys who may be all too ready to cheer it on. As for the rest of us, well... we've got Jodie Foster's performance and a carefully designed script to make it seem justified, a somewhat questionable title notwithstanding.

Erica Bain (Foster) isn't just your average New Yorker. She's a completely ingrained promoter of the city on her radio talk show, "Street Talk," employing the distinctive method of recording the street sounds of the city for backup. In addition, she's in true love with fiance David Kirmani (Naveen Andrews) with whom she's planning a wedding.

A shell of sheer happiness and contentment is torn apart one night when the couple's dog is captured at the far end of a foreboding tunnel by a group of human animals who aren't content just to rob the pair. Clearly, their aim is to kill the pair and, in David's case, they succeed. Erica, pulls through after a coma, with wounds that go far deeper than skin and bones.

Once back home, she's unable to face the fear of walking the streets again. But she's determined to overcome it, and does, though not without arming herself. She pays a thousand dollars to an underground gun seller for a nice 9mm, which she totes in her shoulder bag. It may be a crutch, but it accomplishes what it's supposed to by restoring her previous confidence.

But when a man shoots a store manager thinking it empty, and then realizes it's not, and he comes searching for the witness to his crime, it's kill or be killed reality for Erika. She pulls her gun and kills the killer, pointblank.

It's amost as much a shock to her as to her victim. Shooting and killing a man affects her profoundly. The shadings of meaning behind the act is alien, unknown territory. In the aftermath, the realization of its significance overtakes her. Some calming time later, when riding the subway, two goons threaten her with a razor sharp pocketknife. She's now much more intent when she blasts them both off the planet with well aimed shots. A firm hold on her new life as a vigilante is born. And, about to come to the attention of NYPD detective Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard).

Initially, he recognizes her as the tunnel lady who almost didn't make it, then as the radio reporter who massages his ego by interviewing him. Their paths cross out of mutual interest in his pursuit of the vigilante killer making headlines and alarming the city. The questions then are, when will he realize he's been very close to the person "doing his dirty work" all along; and what will he do about it when it hits him?

The premise feels a stretch and, frankly, I was somewhat on edge about going along with it. There are times when it seems too predictable and undangerous. The ironies being delicious, however, and the justice being meted out appealing so strongly to one's base desire for instant justice, there was no real problem in staying with it and enjoying the relationship of mutual trust and respect developing between cop and perp so teasingly.

As lead detective, Mercer faces the "mystery man" behind the killings with steady determination and cold analysis of what evidence turns up at the crime scenes. Howard "The Hunting Party" plays him honest and relentless, but with a warm depth and creative determination, leaving one more good impression about his range as an actor.

With some of the best lines in the movie, Mercer's partner, detective Vitale (Nicky Katt, "Grindhouse"), is a hardened sleuth with impersonal candor as it relates to dead bodies, perps and physical evidence.

Chosen by executive producer Jodie Foster, the film is directed by Academy Award winner Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game") and, with a screenplay by Roderick Taylor & Bruce A. Taylor and Cynthia Mort, carries the idea that once you go down the path this character takes, there's no going back.

The trouble with actors of Foster's talent and nature is that a very stringent standard comes with it. Consequently, we don't seeas much of her as one would like or think she deserves. Since "Panic Room" in 2002, for instance, Foster's been seen in one starring roles before this one: "Flightplan" in 2005; and twice in supporting roles: "A Very Long Engagement" in 2004 and "Inside Man" in 2006. Compare that against Charlize Theron's eight starring roles in the same time period or Naomi Watts' 16.

But a dearth of work aside, as well as whether you're comfortable with the theme of this movie she chose to do, what she conveys here will only cement her high positioning on the A-list actresses. You don't go out and become a vigilante killer overnight, no matter what insult has been wreaked upon you and your body, and the modulated transition she takes her character through takes us on a step by step progression that makes the notion of it understandable, if not altogether agreeable. Perhaps the greater achievement is maintaining her humanity and keeping us on her side at all times. How she comes out of this fantasy thriller territory earns applause and does no harm to her solid reputation.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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