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At The Movies: A Girl and A Gun: The Brave One ***1/2

When John Hinckley watched Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver he became obsessed enough with the young actress that he found himself a gun and tried to the shoot the president, like Travis Bickle did a presidential candidate in Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece, Taxi Driver.

One could make the argument that Taxi Driver was powerful enough to make Hinckley pick up a gun. But the truth is, it was the power of cinema itself. It was Jodie Foster in the film that ignited Hinckley’s psychosis. No one knows much of Foster’s feelings around the subject as she has mostly refused to talk about it.

What emerged instead, like a beautifully sculpted, muscular statue out of a block of marble, was an actress drawn to roles where she is the tiny avenger, vulnerable on the inside but tough and capable on the outside, with a gun, without a gun, fit and sensible with no one to protect her.

Foster transformed into this mythic creature via The Silence of the Lambs, where her Clarisse Starling overcame her humble beginnings to make it all the way to the F.B.I. With her good bag and her cheap shoes she took her licks and kept getting back up and eventually hooked herself a bad guy. A second Best Actress Oscar was won and something clicked.

With Panic Room and Flightplan Foster proved an adept heroine, especially when she’s protecting her young. She evolved from young Clarisse and was now a mother using her strength and intelligence to beat down bad guys. In all of these films she had to fight for her own survival. She could have been killed.

Now, with her latest, The Brave One, Foster evolves yet again. This time, though, there was no lamb to free and no little girl to protect. This time, it was revenge. And this time, there was a moral dilemma to grapple with.

Foster plays Erica, an NPR reporter who is attacked one night in Central Park, her fiancé (Naveen Andrews) is brutally murdered and her dog is stolen. Before that, she says, fear never touched her. The fear is so intense that she can’t leave her house. And it isn’t until she feels the cool steel of a pistol that the fear starts to subside.

This is especially poignant for Foster who no doubt must have been living with a certain kind of fear all of these years. And with that fear one has the choice to react in different ways. You can collapse under the weight of it. You can confront it, or you can overcome it. You pick up a gun when you have nothing left. Foster’s Erica feels like she has nothing left and therefore, nothing to lose. Travis Bickle felt the same way. So did John Hinckley.

What is thought-provoking about The Brave One is that it gives us the opportunity to examine what it would be like, what it would really be like, to kill those who threaten, intimidate, hurt and, in some cases, murder good people. It shows Erica almost getting high off of it but it also shows how ugly it can be, how morally impossible it really is to take justice into one’s hands. It is not a movie that makes you want to cheer every time a bad guy gets plugged.

Directed by Neil Jordan, The Brave One features one of Foster’s most realized and richly drawn performances. She is helped by Terrence Howard, who plays the cop at her heels. The film doesn’t seem to know precisely where it’s going, which makes it feel deliberately ambiguous.

What resonates most, though, is the image of Foster as a woman, no longer a teenage prostitute, a rape victim, a rookie FBI agent or a trapped and hunted mother, but as the one with the gun beating back the fear.

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