Warning: There be spoilers!
There is a beautiful scene late in The Brave One where Detective Mercer is having a conversation with Erica Bain about a series of vigilante killings that have rocked the city recently. He doesn’t know that she is the killer — he just befriended her after he met her during the course of this investigation — but he has just begun to suspect that this might be the case.
He mentions that there seem to be a lot of people in the city who would like to get even. Her response: “Yes, there must be a lot of us.” Wrong pronoun. He notices. And then says that, if he finds one of his friends to be guilty of a crime, he would not hesitate in bringing that friend down. She acknowledges that she understands what he is saying.
Now consider where the Erica Bain character is at this point in her life. She has been raped and her boyfriend has been murdered in a random mugging in Central Park. Her way of coping with this tragedy is to buy a gun, seek out situations where she is confronted by men who are stronger than her and mean to do her harm, and then shoot them. If you’ve seen Charles Bronson’s Death Wish, you know how this goes. Will she kill again? Quite possibly. Will it stop after she has found her boyfriend’s killers and avenged his death? Probably not. Like she says herself, she has become someone else. She has moved from one steady state to another after a period of turmoil.
As a character study, which The Brave One is for most of its running time, the movie has ended there. Maybe she will get caught, maybe she will avenge her boyfriend’s death, maybe she will stop killing. I don’t think it matters. What happens after that point is unlikely to change who she is. Or who he (Mercer) is, for that matter. i think a director of Neil Jordan’s calibre understands that.
Then why, oh why, did he have to continue the movie for another 20-odd minutes, trying to take the plot to a worn-out, cliched conclusion? Couldn’t he have just ended the movie with that conversation?
To me, this misstep is what takes The Brave One from being a very good movie to a merely above average one. Jodie Foster and Terence Howard are fantastic, the camerawork (especially in the way it suggests Erica’s state of mind) is masterful, the dialogue is interesting, the plotting is fairly tight… and yet, all of it is wasted because Jordan doesn’t trust his audience to understand.
Ironic, for a movie titled The Brave One.