Foster fights back in ‘Brave One’

Ed Symkus

Jodie Foster has dedicated a portion of her career to playing the victim who fights back, from the pool hall-courtroom drama “The Accused” to the tight-spaced thriller “Panic Room,” way back to her characterization of a child prostitute in the streets of New York in “Taxi Driver.”

She returns to those same but very different streets in the revenge film “The Brave One,” playing Erica Bain, a radio talk-show host who’s beaten into a coma when she and her soon-to-be-late fiance take a wrong turn in Central Park. When she awakens, now filled with fear, she buys a gun – just to feel safe – but finds herself, initially against her will, turning into a vigilante, taking out those who would do harm to her and others. The film’s central plot twist is that she becomes friends with a detective (Terrence Howard) who’s looking for the person (assumed to be a man) who’s causing all the mayhem, and at the same time is fighting his own demons. The two very opposite people end up inadvertently helping each other through emotional turmoil.

Aside from giving one of her strongest and toughest performances in years, the cinema-savvy Foster, a longtime Hollywood A-lister, also produced the film. She recently spoke about its place among other thrillers, its pre-release (and unfair) critical comparisons to the ’70s Charles Bronson chestnut “Death Wish,” and the fact that she’s into her fourth decade of acting in films.

What makes “The Brave One” different from any other vigilante movie?

What’s beautiful about it is that it’s a truly sophisticated movie that lives in a very unsophisticated genre. So you get the combination of a primal experience from the audience that’s kind of satisfying, yet there’s so much to talk about and so much ambivalence the characters have. There’s such an interior life to the film. The story is a lovely bit of social commentary that is not black and white, that doesn’t have this sort of super ego, high morality standing over it.

Are you at all concerned that some critics are labeling it a female “Death Wish?”

“The Brave One” has a classic structure, and I think “Death Wish” has a classic structure, which I bet you could find in Greek tragedy – Act I, Act II and Act III. But in terms of “Death Wish,” I think a better comparison from the ’70s is “Taxi Driver” or some of the anti-hero films like “Straw Dogs” or “Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion.” Films where you are allowed to walk and talk in the shoes of the character, without apology. You may not agree with them, you may not like them, but this is who they are and this is how they feel. When you’re left at the end of “Taxi Driver” with Travis Bickle, and you know he’s gonna do it again, that’s not a good thing, but it’s true. And I think that’s what distinguishes us from “Death Wish,” which, as a pure genre movie, is really more about the popcorn aspects of the genre. I think our film is more of an exploration of character. Erica is able to lay claim to a kind of humanity to herself that she didn’t even know she had, and that humanity is at once absolutely beautiful and absolutely monstrous.

You were in “Taxi Driver.” Could you explain more about your own comparison to that film?

I didn’t think of the “Taxi Driver” comparisons until we were in the midst of development. Travis Bickle is unconscious. He doesn’t know why he’s doing what he’s doing. He doesn’t ask those questions. He’s primal and he just reacts. Erica is conscious, and she is an intellectual; she is someone who thinks about what she’s doing. She has shame and she has a guiding moral principal.

When you first started acting, did you have any idea that you would still be doing it today? Are you surprised at your longevity?

It’s funny, I did movies in the ’60s and the ’70s and the ’80s , the ’90s and now past 2000. It’s true that in American culture, every three years, somebody new comes out and they forget you. But I’ve managed to kind of create a career that’s kind of consistent and that continues. My career hasn’t been as flashy as other people’s, but I’m like an Eveready bunny. I just keep going.

“The Brave One” opens Sept. 14.

Ed Symkus can be reached at esymkus@cnc.com.