But remember this? John Hinckley was obsessed with Foster and "Taxi Driver," the 1976 movie in which she played a teenage prostitute. Emulating Travis Bickle's plot to assassinate a presidential candidate, Hinckley bought a cheap pawnshop gun and shot six rounds of bullets at President Ronald Reagan in 1981, wounding press secretary James Brady. How ironic that Foster would agree to play a female version of Robert De Niro's lonely man. Her Erica Bain in "The Brave One" is Travis Bickle - but without the context that encourages viewers to question whether vigilante killings are the work of a sociopath or a hero.
The movie is a masterwork of craft, manipulating viewer emotions and pushing buttons to elicit unthinking responses and unabashed bloodlust. Screenwriters Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor and Cynthia Mort could not have created a more sympathetic character than radio host Erica Bain, who mesmerizes listeners with her poetic "Street Walk" stories of New York, the safest big city in the world. A vicious attack in Central Park leaves her fiancé (Naveen Andrews of television's "Lost") dead and her so badly wounded that she becomes a shell of her former self, a stranger walking among the living. Foster's voiceover narration reveals her character's innermost thoughts, and the actor brings likeability and smarts to the role of victim. The result? Instant, vicarious identification with the protagonist.
Viewers think what Erica thinks. Viewers see what Erica sees. Philippe Rousselot's camera pulls us into Erica's fearful frame of mind like no other movie. Tilted angles and jangled camerawork accompany her every hesitant step as she wills herself down the narrow hall of her apartment building toward the front door that opens to mean streets. Flashbacks of the attack, stylized to look like the video footage taken by one of the muggers, never leave her thoughts - or ours.
So when Erica buys a gun illegally for protection and kills a man in self-defense, who would object? When the Big Apple's finest can't find her attackers or when she waits seemingly forever for help at a police station, who can't feel her frustration? As Erica turns into a "Death Wish"-style judge, jury and executioner, Neil Jordan's ("The Crying Game") assured direction positions the viewer with her for every trigger pull of that 9mm automatic pistol.
More disturbing is the depiction of NYPD detective Mercer (Terrence Howard of "Hustle and Flow"), a good cop who strikes up a friendship with Erica while trying to catch the vigilante killer.
To this day, director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader disagree about whether Travis Bickle's killing spree defines him as saintly or sick, and the ambiguous ending of "Taxi Driver" encourages viewers to ponder issues ranging from gun control to justice. "The Brave One" only panders to base instincts.