Having been brutally attacked and left for dead in Central Park, radio host Erica (Foster) is crippled by fear. Buying a gun, she takes to the streets searching for her attackers, tackling random criminals along the way, driven by vengeance and losing control.
Despite corralling moody Irish director Neil Jordan to direct this thriller, there is no mistaking A Jodie Foster Movie - gripping, edgy, mostly humourless, and acted with the kind of intensity that could sink ships.
You can see what drew America’s premier actress to this piece: it’s a 30-years-on refraction of Taxi Driver, set in a post-9/11 New York (as opposed to post-Vietnam). The vigilante is a partly sympathetic woman (as opposed to De Niro’s highly disturbed cabbie), even if the post-Giuliani streets of the Big Apple are proudly low on pimps and psychos. Still, you can’t imagine the NY tourist board being over-enamoured with the film’s packs of deranged crack-heads hunting in lovely Central Park.
Any film is likely to suffer by so clear a comparison, but this is a noble, if flawed, companion piece to the Scorsese-of-old. For all its contemporary features - iPod theft! Iraq references! - Jordan gives his city of night the veneer of all those loquacious bursts of antiheroic filmmaking from the ’70s. Sticking clear of polished avenues and shiny landmarks, the neon-spotted streets feel again a dangerous, seedy place, even if the Rent-A-Scum villainy lurking on subway trains or flailing around drugstores look like J. Lo’s security detail doing a spot of moonlighting. Collectively, the setting is decently handled cliché.
As ever with Foster, the film is all about Foster. You can feel her bend every sinew and synapse into creating a fully dimensional character. The problem is she is so strong that she tends to knock her co-stars flying; only Terrence Howard as the-one-good-cop manages to cling on to make an impression. His job in the thinnish plot is to offer salvation for our avenging angel, the plot pincer-moving to a weirdly distressing ending.
Even as the ending might frustrate with its looseness, there is a fascinating ambiguity to Erica’s actions. Is she on a righteous crusade? Is she insane? Should we hope she succeeds or fails? That any easy answer remains elusive should be applauded - we’re streets ahead of the schlocky climes of a trillion Death Wishes. As the trauma-shaped Erica dons shades and a leather jacket and sets out to confront bad guys, you could even read the film as
a satire of the superhero genre. A feminist-realist-nihilist re-imagining of Batman…
It wants to be a modern Taxi Driver; it manages to be the new Falling Down, with Foster as fierce as ever.