Dum dum dum honey what have you done, dum dum dum that's the sound of my gun. Yes, Jodie's got a gun.
You know what? (Forgive the bad pun, while you're at it) Jodie, it seems, always has a gun. Having made her career out of making films about characters on the edge, and psychoanalyzing traumatized and not too well adjusted human beings, this is like homecoming for Jodie Foster. This, in many many ways, is not just a Jodie Foster film. It might well be THE Jodie Foster film, and I don't mean that in a good way.
It begins almost innocuously, with Foster playing Erica Bain, a happy girl, giddy in love with a decent doctor guy (Naveen Andrews), her fiancé. She is a Radio talk show host in New York, one of the careers that may not have anything to do with a typical Foster film, but it later turns out it is, anyway. A halt to this romcom comes within the first 10 minutes or so when she and her fiancé are attacked in Central Park.
Three street punks beat her up and put her in a coma, and the fiancé does not make it. The light-hearted woman emerges out of her cocoon a darker meaner woman, the kind we all know so well. The first thing she does is to try and get a gun, and things immediately go wrong when she decides not to wait for 30 days to get a license, and instead buys one off the streets. So begins one woman's crusade against the lowlifes of her city, and her catharsis comes when she finds the punks that made her who she is.
This may be a weak point being as we have seen so many on-the-edge Jodies in her illustrious career, but really, this time you can't help but be perversely fascinated with the character that she dishes up - a muddy reflection of all the traumatic stress around her, with no small amounts of moral ambiguity about her actions. It is enthralling to watch her go through these motions, and she never lets you down even once.
The problem is that the film is too literal-minded and simple to get the complexity of the character that Foster seems to understand. Director Neil Jordan serves the movie up devoid of any mood, or character. The problem with the incongruity of their visions is that the screenplay writers want to make a straight up vigilante film, with no thoughts about Bain's reaction to today's inhumane conditions, the only focus being personal gratification.
There is some half-hearted attempt to breathe more than the standard issue Charles Manson life to the film by trying to get into Bain's thoughts about a city she doesn't think is safe anymore. But the way it is presented makes Bain come across as half loony. Be it the weirdly decorated apartment, or the show that she starts doing again, recording sounds of the city and blaming it for her current problems.
To counter balance the grimness of Foster's portrayal, the script also tries to inject the film with a police investigation theme intertwined with this film. Terrence Howard plays Det. Mercer, a man who not only befriends Bain, but also is in charge of the murders she is committing while in vigilante mode. Stretching credibility beyond its limits, the film has one coincidence too many that convince the good detective that the woman he knows is the 'man' he has been looking for.
Doing that husky voice thing that she does, Foster is at home in this film, one that is populated by the kind of dank emotions that she likes to explore. Her portrayal is unusually intelligent for a film that takes the moral low road almost inevitably always. With some solid acting and smooth direction by Jordan, it would have been a crackerjack of a film, yet it isn't.
There is an inherent distaste for the material being approached in the script itself, and the ludicrous way it is written, especially the finale, it makes one believe that the screenplay writers did not, in fact, intend to do anything more than cash an easy pay cheque by re-writing Death Wish. There is some deft framing by Jordan, but really, was there even something to say in the film to begin with?
No, there wasn't. There is absolutely no recourse to Bain's actions or frankly her predicament about living a normal life after a traumatic episode. There is no heart in the way the finale lets loose a barrage of violence towards the evil doers all the while robbing Bain of her sanity. This film is a compromise between trashy pulp fiction and intelligent drama, and suffers for it. Pity, for there is some vintage Foster to enjoy it with.