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Friday, September 14, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

A woman transforms, "The Brave One" connects

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

"The Brave One," with Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews, Nicky Katt, Mary Steenburgen. Directed by Neil Jordan, from a screenplay by Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor and Cynthia Mort. 119 minutes. Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality. Several theaters.

"It is astonishing, numbing, to find that inside you is a stranger. A sleepless, restless stranger who keeps walking, keeps eating, keeps living."

Those words, spoken in soft, wrenching tones by Erica Bain (Jodie Foster), sum up the difficult theme of Neil Jordan's carefully crafted drama "The Brave One." It's about how a random act of violence changes a woman who survives it; how she becomes someone darker and colder, unafraid to do what she needs to take back the night. And it's that rarity: a violent action movie with a heart and soul. Watching it is difficult; forgetting it is more so.

Foster, looking thin and taut, plays Erica, an NPR radio commentator whose life with her fiancé, David (Naveen Andrews), seems, in the words of a friend, almost too happy. That life ends, quickly and horribly, as they walk their dog one night in Central Park. A gang of thugs ambushes them, one wielding a cameraphone whose grainy images Jordan uses to distance us, just a bit, from the attack. Both are beaten savagely: David is killed, Erica nearly so.

Weeks later, she leaves the hospital and goes home, to an empty apartment and dead flowers in a vase. Fearful and altered, she slowly transforms, gradually choosing to embrace violence rather than shrink from it. As stories of vigilante crime grip the city, police detective Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard) steps slowly closer to the truth.

Foster, in a performance of quiet, devastating honesty, takes hold of the movie, walking us through Erica's gradual transformation. On the surface, the role might sound like rape victim Sarah Tobias in "The Accused" (for which Foster won her first of two Oscars). But though the territory is similar (at least at first), the women are not: Sarah was painfully inarticulate; Erica, whose language is her livelihood, is precise and deliberate. Both are strong, as Foster's characters always are, but they walk different paths.

Though the action sometimes feels a bit contrived (it seems unlikely that Erica would suddenly have so many unconnected encounters with violent situations, so close together), the actors make us believe it all, and Jordan keeps the tone precisely balanced between gritty drama and emotional character work. And he makes the details register: Dario Marianelli's score (which at times sounds like a heartbeat); Nicky Katt's funny work as Mercer's sardonic partner, a welcome relief from the film's darkness; the way the classic song "You Don't Know Me" plays quietly in the background when Erica and Mercer meet in a cafe; the simple, wrenching arrival in the mail, weeks after the attack, of Erica and David's wedding invitations.

The film, which makes us understand Erica's actions without requiring us to approve of them, will likely inspire much discussion. But there's no question that Foster's work here is that of a mature, confident artist unafraid to tackle dark, questionable territory. "There is no going back to that other person, that other place," she says, and you'll hear her voice echoing long afterward.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725

or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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