Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
A highly effective revenge thriller, Neil Jordan´s The Brave One is only beset by the fact that it´s almost a carbon copy of Michael Winner´s 1974 Death Wish, replacing Charles Bronson with Jodie Foster and calling it a day. Yet it´s still compelling stuff, aided greatly by an experienced director and two stars at the top of their game who play off each other perfectly. Jordan explores the ethics of vigilante justice more than in your usual revenge pic, but this is countered by a conventional and improbable ‘happy´ ending that lacks the punch of the rest of the film.
Foster stars as Erica Bain, NYC radio personality about to marry doctor & fiancé David (Naveen Andrews). One night while walking the dog, they´re brutally attacked by some street thugs who leave David dead and Erica in the hospital; weeks later, she begins her recovery by buying a black-market gun for protection. Soon she´s using the gun for protection, and soon after that she´s using it to clean the streets (haven´t I seen this before?); Detectives Mercer (Terrence Howard) and Vitale (Nicky Katt) are soon on the case, though they´re unusually clueless for most of the film. Mercer runs into Erica at one of the crimes scenes – recognizing her as a radio show host – and the two forge an credibility-stretching relationship (though a romance between these two is better, I suppose, than one between Bronson and Vincent Gardenia). Foster is solid as usual; I can´t imagine another name actress delivering the same credibility and moral conscience to the role. Howard is also excellent, lending a dogged sympathy to his role. The thugs are all uncomfortable clichés, however: Latino and Black gangstas, an Italian-American Mafioso. Still, few pictures deliver the visceral thrill of vigilante justice as effectively as this one. Pic would rate higher if only it didn´t borrow so many elements from similar films; the NYC urban landscape, along with a number of entire segments, feel almost lifted from Death Wish; there´s also a dash of Taxi Driver, particularly in a convenience store scene that precisely recalls Travis Bickle´s first brush with vigilantism. But (at least, until the finale) the film works; worth seeing, and will likely play better if you haven´t seen (or don´t remember) those ‘70´s vigilante flicks.
A documentary-style portrait of the kidnapping of, and search for, Daniel Pearl, Michael Winterbottom´s A Mighty Heart achieves a moving authenticity though the story presented is often uninvolving. Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and his wife (and fellow journalist) Marianne were living in Karachi, Pakistan, in early 2002; en-route to a supposed interview with religious leader Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, Pearl was kidnapped and taken hostage by an militant group who demanded the US release Pakistani detainees in exchange for his return. On February 1, Pearl was beheaded by his captors, and a gruesome decapitation video soon spread through the internet. A Mighty Heart, however, does not focus on Pearl´s ordeal; it instead presents a rather touching love-and-loss story told through the eyes of Marianne (Angelina Jolie) mixed with a distant, routine investigation following local and US attemtps to track down those responsible. Early scenes focus on Pearl (Dan Futterman) during the day of his kidnapping, and they´re absolutely compelling – even when he´s meeting with an ISP provider or chatting with a cab driver. Soon he disappears, however, and we witness none of his days in captivity – instead we get an emotional Marianne at their home, surrounded by friends and police. Jolie is excellent and surprisingly understated throughout much of the film, until she receives the inevitable news and explodes into an emotional fury that rings depressingly true. She carries the film when she´s on the screen, but unfortunately, that isn´t always the case; for a lengthy part of the midsection, I had to ask myself why we were following a routine investigation (which leads nowhere, while we already know the outcome) instead of focusing on Marianne or Daniel. Not, perhaps, the film I had expected or wanted to see, but still an admirable and respectful – and completely unexploitative – tribute to Daniel Pearl.
Note: some (less than 10%) of the dialogue in the film is Arabic, subtitled in Czech (and not English) on Prague screens; this shouldn´t hamper your enjoyment of the film if you don´t speak either language, however.
Also: The Music on Film – Film on Music (MOFFOM) Festival 2007 takes place Thursday 18.10 – Sunday 22.10 at cinemas Lucerna, Svetozor, and Evald. One of the highlights of the festival is John Carney´s Once (screening twice during the fest), which won the Audience Award at this year´s Sundance Film Festival.