Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, September 14, 2007

Are vigilante films coming back in style?

Jodie Foster's new movie,The Brave One,arrives in theaters today and most of the reviews for it are mixed,with a good number of them referencing such old school street justice classics as Death Wish,Taxi Driver and even Ms. 45. Alot of folks seem miffed at the very idea of Jodie(who is an anti-gun advocate)being the leading lady in a story about a NPR type of radio personality who decides to go the way of the gun after the brutal assault she survived but that her fiancee didn't.

Only a couple of weeks earlier,another vigilante themed film was released with much less fanfare,Death Sentence, starring Kevin Bacon as a grieving father who goes out to hunt down the gang that got away with the murder of his son. That movie recieved plenty of negative reviews but was pretty much dismissed as a run of the mill potboiler,while The Brave One is being touted as a "controversal" prestige film(that is,when the cries of "Jodie is slumming" are low in the background).

Just this morning,I saw an article predicting that TBO is already expected to take the lead in the weekend box office race,which tells me that someone out there has caught a scent in the pop culture wind that is telling Hollywood to greenlight stories like this right now.

I haven't seen either film(tho I'm leaning more towards The Brave One)and both of them may be as flawed as the critics say but the bigger question in my mind is why now are these films coming back? We're also getting abit of a western revival with 3:10 To Yuma and soon,The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford,which you could argue are the great granddaddies of the vigilante genre. Is this a reaction to the troubled times we're facing right now or just the primal need to exact revenge in a more direct and personally satisfying manner than polite society would rather we not pursue?

Years ago, Carol J. Clover,a professor of medieval studies,wrote a brilliant book called "Men,Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film" which introduced the notion that slasher movies were not as sexist as most people were claiming them to be and she also went into other subgenres of horror films,like occult and revenge films such as I Spit On Your Grave and Ms. 45,which she cites as templates for more mainstream movies about female victimaztion and re-enpowerment like The Accused and Thelma and Louise. If you haven't read this book,I highly recommend it because many of the things Clover said about gender roles and other sociological struggles being given a test run in low budget films before getting to romp around in bigger budgeted waters still holds true today,it seems.

Do I see this as a bad thing? Not neccessarily-pop culture has been said to hold up a mirror to society for better and for worse. This might be a good way to discuss those unpleasant topics that most would prefer to sweep under the rug or just a chance for some to blow off some stream and indulge in their revenge fantasies in a safe and nonjudgemental environment. No doubt,some will argue that this is only encouraging weak minded people to act out on their inner sock pupper theater of pain but you could also point to the Bible as a negative influence for the same type of person and no one wants to get into those murky depths that censorship can sink to.

So,are The Brave One and Death Sentence true homages to vigilante films or total throwbacks to the genre? Decide for yourself and don't feel guilty if you happen to get a kick out of seeing either Jodie or Kevin bring the bad guys down. Sometimes it's better to let your demons out to play rather than let them fester inside,where they can cause more damage that way in the long run.







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