Strangers in a strange land
"In revenge and in love woman is more barbaric than man is." Nietzsche
Neil Jordan's Crying Game is my favorite film of the '90's; his Brave One is not my favorite this year, but it has Jordan touches that make it better than the garden variety vigilante movie and an intelligent accompaniment to Death Sentence and Bourne Ultimatum. For starters, the leads, Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard, in Brave One are strong actors like Jaye Davidson and Stephen Rea. But that's just the surface of Jordan's talent, underneath which lies an enduring interest in gender transformation as in The Crying Game and Breakfast on Pluto.
Erica Bain (Foster) has been beaten in the park, and her boyfriend has been murdered. The Brave One shows her changing from a quiet public radio show host into a Charles Bronson-type (Death Wish) revenge machine. Detective Sean Mercer (Howard) suspects she is the vigilante. More important than the body count at her hands is the identity theme that Jordan neatly carries through the film as he did in The Crying Game. Beginning with the section of the park called "Stranger's Way" through thoughts about losing identity to another hidden self, Jordan consistently underscores the changes his protagonists go through as they face loss, morphing into strangers to themselves, the stranger in Bain a cold killer.
Even minor characters such as Mercer's attorney ex-wife are in on the motif: She's different after their divorce, for instance, no longer doing pro bono work. It's just that doing justice is a life changer no matter which side of the law you're on. Also typically for the director, names are representative, e.g., Bain=bane and Mercer=merciful. Because Jordan likes figurative story telling, he wastes few chances to suggest his themes.
The setup of Brave One is tedious before we get to Bain's change, at which time the story moves rapidly. The coincidences, necessary in all storytelling, are beyond the pale at times, such as when Bain luckily is in the same building as a very bad baddie, who is not at all as lucky as she, and when Mercer transforms his deeply-embedded beliefs in the last few minutes of the film.
But Jordan and his writers have sparely parsed the changes a normal human being might pass through after a tragedy into revenge. Bain is an everywoman changing herself into an everyman. Although it's not a pretty transformation, Jordan shows how it might happen to any one of us. After all, we descended on Iraq out of revenge.
"Till that a capable and wide revenge
Swallow them up." Shakespeare's Othello