The last two films I saw in the theater are oddly familiar in a few aspects and the response I’ve noticed to them represent how weird this world of cinema is and how a few tonal decisions can take two different yet similar films and create such an impasse between them. Additionally, the one I like much more is getting lambasted by folks [including this site’s own Russ Fischer] while the one I liked much less is getting a pass [including by this site’s own Jeremy Smith].
So why the fuck did I dig the Jodie Foster flick and loathe the Clive Owen one?
To me, in many regards, Shoot ‘Em Up and The Brave One are both fairy tales about the sex appeal and power of cold steel firepower in the palm of your hand. One revels in it, creating a hybrid of gun porn and larger than life theatrics and the other tries to walk a tightrope between message movie and revenge flick. Neither is wholly successful but the tonal difference apparently makes all the difference in the world because folks seem to think The Brave One is a dumb and reckless look at street justice while Shoot ‘Em Up is just a fun brainless exercise in the vein of recent entertainments like Crank and Smokin’ Aces.
Bullshit, says I. The Brave One succeeds as a fun if somewhat grounded in a psuedo reality bit of escapism as well. Instead of Chucky Bronson or a bald Kevin Bacon exacting justice you have Jodie Foster, a real actress and the film is directed not by Saw survivor James Wan but real filmmaker Neil Jordan [shitpile In Dreams notwithstanding]. Also, where Shoot ‘Em Up revels in its crescendo of cascading shell casings and pistol as all-purpose tool the Foster film primarily treats its handguns as means to an end. There’s a definite empowerment issue there and the guns are treated with impressive concussive use of Dolby Surround but it’s not as kinetic and resourceful as in the Clive Owen tale. Maybe Shoot ‘Em Up is gun porn and The Brave One is softcore Cinemax gun erotica. Either way, they both satiate the love of the muzzle flare and the adrenaline rush of a baddie punctured with sizzling lead.
I think part of the problem with folks accepting Neil Jordan’s movie as anything weightier than a Friday night fun time at the movies is the pedigree. It’s a very well-shot film and at times it’s almost lyrical with its voiceover narration as talk show host Foster speaks about her city and ultimately the fear that shakes her world apart. With its displaced time narrative, scenes of extreme violence mixed with extreme pleasure and saturated hallways and bright lights beckoning and daring our heroine to go back out onto the streets that wounded her it walks a fine line between being a serious drama with a social agenda and a thriller that just happens to feature Oscar calibre talent. I think a lot of it depends on expectations and perception and my experience was one of a passive friend going to see whatever movie my buddy wanted as opposed to the Shoot ‘Em Up experience where I dragged a friend along with me, much to my eventual chagrin. I expected Shoot ‘Em Up to be an insane, hilarious, and quotable romp and The Brave One to be a "you’ve seen the whole film in the trailer" statement on gun control. Instead I found Shoot ‘Em Up to be extremely unfunny with really forced and hollow dialogue and action scenes which have the fun sucked out of them by bad CGI and a lack of awareness of the pain that the bullets cause. Having dozens of cronies get shot, sometimes in creative ways, loses almost all of its oomph with the disregard of the act itself. While Clive Owen could look cool shitting his pants at Denny’s, even his considerable charisma isn’t enough to make his movie feel careless, reckless, meanspirited, and even more vacant than some of the "me too" Asian action films in recent years. Cool can’t be forced and I found Shoot ‘Em Up trying so hard that it stumbled right past cool and into lameness. Also, thanks to that movie I lost just about all of the considerable love/lust I had for Monica Bellucci. HOW DARE YOU. Additionally, I found Paul Giamatti’s work to not be fun or cool or menacing, but rather grating. Clive Owen’s still solid in the movie but a lot of his dialogue and action comes off as a hybrid of better imported films as siphoned though writer/director Michael Davis’ regurgitron.
I just felt dirty and not in the rewarding way I did after Crank. Just dirty.
In The Brave One, Jodie Foster trades true love [in the form of Naveen Andrews] for true firepower [in the form of an illegally purchased 9mm handgun] and the transition, though rocky, results in a similar sense of weightlessness and ecstasy. Swooning in the arms of her lover is replaced by drunkenly walking from a massacre, and the real surprising thing is how openly left leaning Foster embraces that darkness. Though the film ends in a truly unrealistic [which is why I feel this is soulmates with films like Running Scared and the films mentioned in this article in that it doesn’t represent reality but rather a skewed fairy tale vision of reality] manner, it’s an ending which satisfies people who wish we could make the bad guys go away without impunity.
Terrence Howard’s conflicted Detective character is unlike no policeman walking a beat in our reality, he’s Foster’s enabler. Her Galdalf, feeding her just enough to keep on her path of bloodshed, cleaning both her world and his with her big shiny gun and society’s belief that a vigilante couldn’t be a punky woman of 42. The Brave One is not a movie set in reality, regardless even of what the filmmakers might say. It’s escapism that dares us to believe that New York thugs will behave in the manner the film portrays. It’s escapism to see how our heroine can do her deeds without getting seen. Gunshots fired in public places sans witnesses and when a witness does emerge that she’ll play dumb to further the plot. That police won’t check for a fingerprint on the eject button on a VCR where a security tape of a homicide has just disappeared. Folks, this is a film with no agenda at all but to allow for audiences to see justice delivered swiftly and without the legal system. If there’s a message at all in The Brave One it’s that only the strong survive and that no one is going to save you but yourself. There may be hidden meaning there, perhaps the filmmakers feel that life as we know it is on a treacherous path and that action needs to be taken forcibly. Maybe there’s a Nihilistic bent to the film and in many ways its just as bleak and heartless as Shoot ‘Em Up but there’s a great thing about film that some folks seem to forget:
The filmmaker’s intent doesn’t mean fuck-all to an audience.
Regardless of the intentions of Michael Davis and Neil Jordan I’m left as a free-thinking paying customer feeling like I watched two sides of the same coin. You don’t have to be militant to enjoy the shit out of Public Enemy and you don’t have to be a gap-toothed looney to find pleasure in the sublime fingerpickin’ of Dueling Banjos. You just have to feel and react.
Feel I did when I saw these two films, both guilty pleasures of a sort and I’m not saying that perhaps the filmmakers missed their intended target on both counts. I’m just saying the bottom line is that the wrong film got the right reaction from me and while I was wrong on my presumption that Shoot ‘Em Up was gonna be the best time in theaters since I got blown during The Hunt for Red October and that The Brave One was nothing more than Death Wish with a clit… one of these films will be on my DVD shelves this year and it doesn’t mean a good goddamn to me which is cooler to like and which is a misfire. I got what I wanted in September: A good, violent film.
It just wasn’t the one I expected.