Neil Jordan is not the name that immediately springs to mind when you think of a fast-paced action flick, the kind that might otherwise have someone like Michael Bay or Brett Ratner attached to it. Jordan, after all, is the filmmaker who brought the world one of the most talked-about films of its day with the 1992 Oscar-winning drama The Crying Game. He turned Tom Cruise into a vampire in Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, nominated for two Oscars, and crafted a taut love triangle in The End of the Affair, starring Ralph Fiennes, Stephen Rea and Julianne Moore. His movies are pensive, nuanced, controlled and smart.
'I do a lot of different things. I just never thought I'd make an urban vigilante movie,' Jordan says.
Jordan is one of perhaps only a handful of internationally-acclaimed directors who can take something as potentially generic as his latest film, The Brave One, and turn it into something far more profound and insightful. The premise is simple: a smart, happy woman is violated and victimised and decides to take revenge on her assailants.
Matters are helped significantly by the fact that the woman, Erica, is played by Jodie Foster, who can make just about any role intelligent. Erica is a radio personality whose programme involves walking around New York and documenting the sounds of the city. She has a rich, full life, enhanced by her upcoming marriage to David (Naveen Andrews). But while out walking their dog through Central Park one night, the couple is brutally beaten and David dies. After that, Erica takes matters into her own hands.
'There's always been a certain kind of American movie that I've loved and always wanted to make,' says Jordan. 'I'm not really a cinema historian, but it's kind of like those dark, blood-soaked noirish thrillers. I just love the efficiency and the amorality of those kinds of stories.'
Still, Jordan had his doubts when the script - written by TV writers Roderick Taylor and Bruce Taylor - fell into his hands. 'When I read this, I thought, 'Okay, anybody can make this film, why do they want me to make it?'. But I got to one part I thought was really interesting, a line where [Erica] says there was a stranger living inside her. I knew Jodie could go to the place she needed to go, and I thought I'd really like to make it with her. So we decided to try to make the film what it should be, rather than what it is.'
The film focuses on how a decent, level-headed woman can unravel to the point where killing becomes second nature. After the attack, she distances herself from everyone, including her boss (Mary Steenburgen). She has a potential foil in a police officer named Mercer (Terrence Howard), although he eventually becomes her ally. Themes of loss, tragedy and redemption play through the film, coursing towards an ending which audiences will either find hugely satisfying or resoundingly hollow.
'There is no redemption for the kind of actions that she's taken, and no understanding, either,' says Jordan. The ending was perhaps the biggest bone of contention among those behind the film.
'There was every consideration of every possible permutation you can imagine,' he says.
The film's imagery was enriched by its New York location; the gritty night-time shots, the cosmopolitan street scenes, the skyscrapers and bustle of a city literally recorded by Foster's character.
'It's hard not to be diverted by the possibilities that shooting in Manhattan gives you,' he said. 'All these legendary films were shot there. But I love those films where the only point of view possible is the one of the central character. So I wanted to treat Manhattan like a big expressionist set.'
The various themes that unfold in the movie are ones that Jordan believes people everywhere can relate to. 'People at the moment feel uneasy,' he says. 'People on every point in the political spectrum are in a situation they don't understand, and that leads to movies that try to express this.'
In one line in the film, Foster speculates that anybody is capable of taking someone else's life if sufficiently provoked. Jordan says one of the goals of the film is to make people consider whether they could do the same. 'What are the constraints of human behaviour and what happens if they're taken away,' he asks. 'How would one woman respond? This woman behaves this way, but do we all have the ability to respond like that?'
In addition to being a highly visual filmmaker, Jordan loves words. The 57-year-old Irish-born director is also a novelist, having written several books set in Ireland. He has been interested in films since he was a child.
'I was a huge fan of movies as a boy. I grew up in Dublin in the 1960s in a slightly constrained household. There was no TV and I was only allowed to go to the movies once every two weeks. My parents would only let me see war films and Westerns. My mother is a painter, so we had a visual sense. I used to draw and paint all the time. But going to movies always left me awestruck.'
He began working in theatre in Dublin, and even though he was accepted into film school, he couldn't afford to go. So he began writing scripts, his first one being Traveller, in 1981, which was eventually directed by Joe Comerford. Directing followed soon after. Although his novels are always well received, he describes the process as 'a kind of hell'.
'Making films is a lot easier - unless you've chosen the wrong actor or got into bed with the wrong producer, then it's an even worse hell. But otherwise, it's a great, communal journey.'
As soon as he wrapped up production on The Brave One, he began pre-production on his next film, A Killing on Carnival Row, a futuristic film about a serial killer. He is also working on an adaptation of the Stephen King book The Heart-Shaped Box, which he described as 'a lovely ghost story'. He says that if he had carte blanche to make any movie he wanted, it would be a film he has been pursuing for years, based on the life of legendary femme fatale Lucrezia Borgia. 'I just can't get it financed,' he sighs.
But with The Brave One, Jordan has already done something he thought he might never do. 'It's a great thing about Hollywood,' he says. 'Jodie said to me, 'If you do this movie, you will do something you might otherwise not have looked at before'. And that's how I look at the whole studio system - they let me do something interesting, rewrite something, and make it my own.'
The Brave One opens today