Thursday, July 5, 2012

Vengeance Films: The Brave One

One of my weekly routines is to borrow four DVDs from the library and to watch a few as time permits. I'll play the movies on my iMac while balancing the checkbook and paying bills, or during other general activities like preparing photos for sharing, researching a backstory or checking email. The library has a nice collection so it's a good way to stay semi-current with what is happening in the film industry to some extent.

All that to say that this week I brought home Jodie Foster's revenge film The Brave One. To be honest, I'm not sure I would have checked it out except that I once wrote a treatment for a film of my own with a very similar story line. I wanted to see how they fleshed it out. Here's the capsule description for Foster's flick: A woman struggles to recover from a brutal attack by setting out on a mission for revenge.

I conceived my own story about sixteen years ago, called A Taste For Blood. Like the Jody Foster character, a person who is generally non-violent gets his thinking twisted by a violent incident. In my story, it is the unsolved rape/murder of his half-sister who was an instructor at UMD. Dean Strong hails from New Jersey so he does not know the Duluth culture. He poses as a writer in order to get people talking. Before long meets a man who committed a murder and got away with it. He kills this first guy unintentionally as an act of self-defense, kill or be killed. But he feels good that "justice" has been served.

I won't bore you with the rest, except that Jodie Foster's The Brave One follows a similar arc, with not one but several killings of people who get what's coming to them, if you believe in this sort of thing.

And there's the rub. Hollywood's fascination with justice films goes way back. In The Ox-Bow Incident, however, the vigilantes got it wrong. A fair trial would have shown that. But a lynching ensued with irreversible consequences.

Charles Bronson became the ultimate symbol of vigilante justice with his series of Death Wish films. And yes, it's true that the legal system doesn't work sometimes, but... in the grand scheme of things do we really want Americans arming themselves to settle old scores?

In Jodie Foster's film I couldn't help but wonder if there was a connection between the making of this movie and her own real life brush with violence. I'm referring here to John Hinckley's attempt to take the life of President Reagan, which resulted in a punctured lung, plus paralysis for press secretary James Brady who also caught a bullet. Hinckley, who had watched the movie Taxi Driver more than a dozen times, identified with Travis Bickle (DeNiro) whose mission seemed to be to protect a child prostitute played by Jodie Foster. How did Hinckley's twisted act effect the young actress whom he was purportedly trying to impress?

My relationship to Taxi Driver goes like this. Over the years I must have started the film at least a half dozen times. Each time I had to turn it off because I felt it too disturbing and I anticipated a violent end in over-the-top Hollywood style. About two years ago I finally watched it through and was surprised by the different direction it went from what I expected, but not surprised at all by the blood and violence.

Do we really need to see all the blood and hear all those squishy sounds when there are beatings, when there is rape, when their is cruelty and ugliness? Have Americans become de-sensistized to it all so that when delinquents commit a violent act it's just a video game? Wouldn't it be better to leave something for the imagination?

For more on this topic I recommend Noah Berlatsky's The Problem With Revenge Movies, a review of Nicolas Cage's Seeking Justice in The Atlantic. I like the sub-head: Nicolas Cage's Seeking Justice is not only a bad action film—it's an example of the faulty idea that vengeance can be noble. 

I guess I've said my piece on this one. I never did write the screenplay for my own story, even though it did have some original twists.

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