In The Brave One, Neil Jordan's shocking and decidedly controversial new film, Jodie Foster gives a riveting performance as a woman driven almost mad by grief and the desire for revenge. CAHIR O'DOHERTY talks to the Oscar winning Irish director about the script, his star and why he very nearly refused to direct it.
NEIL Jordan won't talk to the press about his new film until they have seen it. Ten minutes into the critics screening at Warner Brothers in New York on Monday, it's easy to understand why he made that call. The Brave One, starring Jodie Foster, is an immensely shocking and sophisticated new film about violence and how it destroys all it touches.
But the film is also about grief. Maddening, overwhelming grief and the desire for revenge - the kind of obsessive desire that puts you off your food and keeps you from sleeping, the kind that can take over a life and often end it.
There are clear thematic parallels between the issues explored in this film and the war convulsing the nation, but neither the script nor the direction belabors them. Instead we witness the deceptively simple story of what happens to one young woman who's near perfect life is upended by a random brutal assault.
"I was attracted to the script because of the character and the transformation she went through," Jordan told the Irish Voice on Tuesday.
"Quite simply I was interested in the idea of this civilized, sophisticated liberal woman who finds this monster insider her, really. It was a fascinating theme, it was quite grown up and I liked the sense of danger that she kept putting herself into. The way she kept challenging her moral perspective with these horrible, bloody killings she kept doing."
Some critics have scoffed at the sense of menace that fills the dark grimy New York streets throughout the film, saying they belongs to another era, the 1970s, not 2007. But that may be to willfully miss the point. The city is a character in the drama, and its menace reflects what can happen as much as what does happen.
"I shot the film like a horror film really. I mean it's obviously set in a much more threatening New York, there are all these references to safety and the attack happens in Central Park," Jordan says.
"But it's a different city now. But we approached the city as if there was a sense of dread lurking beneath all of the shining exteriors that you see here, that kind of thing. The elegant buildings and the civic safety that you get now, but there being something underneath that's waiting to explode you know?
"I approached the landscapes and cityscapes that I shot in New York as if they were a set, as if they were a part of a kind of city of the mind, the place she knew that was familiar and comforting that was changed into something violent and paranoid, you know?"
In The Brave One, as the film progresses, there's a kind of almost supernatural quality to Foster's anger. As she loses her resolve to get her life back on track, she becomes a kind of avenging angel.
"The thing for me is that from being herself - this NPR type of sophisticated radio critic - she becomes this thing, this monster, and she doesn't know what it is. She describes it as the stranger at the start. But by the end she's become something almost mythical, you know?
"It's almost like out of one of those Batman or Superman movies. The thing about the way Jodie plays it is that you kind of know what she's become without having to put words on it. She becomes something out of the landscape, out of the comic strips in a way."
The film intentionally and effectively challenges every comfortable assumption the person watching it might make about how they would behave under similar circumstances. For one thing, the violence of the initial mugging scene is so extreme that it shocks you out of your complacency, implicating you alongside the character.
What if this happened to you, you wonder? Would you behave like she does? Would you want to kill the people who had destroyed your life?
Says Jordan, "It had to be violent. And it was actually much more violent when I originally shot it. But there is only so much that viewers can take, you know? When you do stuff like this you end up filming stuff that you know no one in the world would be able to see.
"It had to be violent, it had to come from nowhere, and in my mind I structured it around those little phone cameras the kids have, you know? As if they were making a snuff movie. If you've spent much time in England lately you'll have heard of this thing called 'happy slapping.' (A schoolyard and council estate phenomenon where a group of teenagers will attack two unwitting passers by and film the attack with their cell phones). I did the scene like that."
Although he's obviously aware of the parallels between the themes of this film and the timely issues it confronts, Jordan eschews making pronouncements.
"I wouldn't want to make too many grand intellectual claims about the film. It's a revenge story, you know what I mean, and it comes from the territory of exploitation movies and stuff like that. The generic kind of film and the generic kind of storyline.
"The reason they're still around is that they hit something kind of primal and they operate on the simplest possible level: there's action and there's consequence and there's action and there's consequence. That structure allowed me to just push her actions almost to the point where I was daring myself and the audience to lose sympathy with her.
"The strange thing is that you never do. It's something to do with the fact that she's a woman, it's something to do with the fact that the initial assault is so horrific, and its something to do with Jodie's performance, she loves to dare herself to explore that kind of territory. Basically this woman is thrown out of heaven and finds herself in some kind of purgatorial landscape (New York City in a heat wave) and she becomes something else, something reprehensible really."
Working alongside Foster on the project was the chief reason that Jordan signed on. "She's one of the best actresses in the world, she's so bright and she's so un-starry, her approach to the part was so bloody physical that it was just a joy to watch. It was her playing the role and us exploring it together that made me want to do the film."
Asked if he had any reservations about making the film Jordan replies candidly, "Oh totally, yeah. Oh, of course I did. I had moral reservations about it. I had to think long and hard before I said yes. It's the kind of film that could have been made by a more glamorous shoot-em' kind of film director, and I didn't know whether anybody would even want me to push it in the direction I wanted to push it in. Thankfully they did.
"I normally write my own scripts and so I thought this would be an interesting chance to step away from that for a bit here. I really wanted to make this as a kind of character filled horror movie. Or a film about a monster inside a woman."
(The Brave One opens nationwide on Friday, September 14.)