Question: why would Jodie Foster want to play a female Charles Bronson in Death Wish mode? Answer: She wouldn’t and doesn’t. Foster and her fearless director, Neil Jordan (hell, he did The Crying Game), are way too smart to cash out their reputations for a cheap vigilante flick. But the glib response to The Brave One (awful title) would be to think just that. I’ll concede that Foster and Jordan have a deeply implausible script to subvert. Foster’s Erica Bain, a Manhattan radio host happy to live in “the safest big city in the world,” changes her tone when she and her fiance, David (Lost‘s Naveen Andrews), are brutally beaten by thugs in Central Park. David’s death leaves her angry and scared, but not too scared to buy a gun on the sly and t shooting. Erica can’t leave her apartment without finding a lowlife. Detective Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard, mesmerizing as always) suspects Erica early in the game, but admiration clouds his judgment. So far, so contrived. But read between the plotlines and you’ll see that Foster and Jordan are tapping into unspoken fears. Crime is down in New York, but not anxiety. It’s been six years since 9/11, and threat lurks everywhere. The voice Erica uses on radio is controlled, espousing correct platitudes. But something dark and dangerous is roiling underneath, something victimization is bringing to the surface. The echoes of Taxi Driver, Foster’s 1976 classic with Robert De Niro, are intentional. Erica is shocked at discovering the stranger inside her, and Foster is electrifying as ego and id clash and the movie fires up with genuine provocation. OK, the fire goes out long before the film ends. But Foster’s tightrope walk commands attention. She’s the real brave one.