Even Oscar winners want to walk on the wild side every now and then — and The Brave One offers such an opportunity for Jodie Foster. She toplines as a Terry Gross-esque talk radio personality who become an amateur vigilante after some generic street punks murder her fiancée and beat her brutally. As she learns while she slays on the mean streets, she begins to circle nervously around a detective (Terence Howard) who is investigating the killings and getting closer to her.
The result is a weird attempt at applying Hollywood prestige-film earnestness to otherwise gut-level exploitation material. The two sides of this coin never mesh in a convincing manner — particularly when a ludicrous finale requires one of the characters to betray all principles to fulfill a simplistic twist — but it’s interesting as an example of oddball high-budget camp.
Foster plays the lead role like Clarice Starling reborn as Paul Kersey and the script gives her plenty of overripe material, like a scene where she argues with the memory of her dead fiancée while swooning over invitations to a wedding that will never occur. That said, she still manages a number of nice moments with Howard, who gives the best and most believable performance of the film until that unwieldy third act.
Meanwhile, Director Neil Jordan has fun with visual style tricks: note how the camera goes into rhythmic Dutch-angle tilting on its horizontal axis when Foster is about to kill a bad guy. He also seems to restage a subway killing from the original Death Wish in an almost verbatim style.
In the end, The Brave One is essentially a vigilante exploitation flick for people who would otherwise consider themselves too sophisticated for this genre. It has its moments but those used to Ms. 45-caliber material are advised to cruise for those kind of kicks elsewhere.