Flaws aside, Braven is a welcome, unchallenging variety of old-school action filmmaking. A talented student in the crude art of “cool” violence, the film delivers some inspired brawn and a more-compelling-than-average leading performance from a wild-looking man who has never seemed more at home.
|Michael Nilon, Thomas Pa’a Sibbett
|February 2, 2018
Braven is an unpretentious, thoroughly enjoyable throwback to a kind of unfussy, star-driven action vehicle that you don’t see too much of anymore. The star here is Jason Momoa. He looks suited to the wilderness. You imagine he could throw an axe pretty accurately if he needed to. This is exactly the kind of star you need for a film like Braven, which feels built around his outdoorsy look and his wood-chucking sensibilities.
Is Jason Momoa really a star, though?
Between supporting turns in major stuff like Game of Thrones and Justice League, sure. But Braven is much more reminiscent of his underrated TV work in The Red Road and Netflix’s Frontier. Both of those shows cast him as a dangerous mountain man, and looking at him, I’d be happy if he never played anything else. He’s good, Momoa. He’s got the hulking physicality, but also tenderness and vulnerability. I think that comes from having a family of his own, but also looking the way he looks. Everyone has families, but not everyone is so physically intimidating that they have to tone it down so as not to terrify the kids.
What’s Braven about?
Momoa plays Joe Braven, the hands-on blue-collar owner-operator of a Newfoundland logging company. Joe’s an enthusiastic husband to Stephanie (Jill Wagner), a playful father to Charlotte (Sasha Rosoff), and a defiant defender of his aging father, Linden (Stephen Lang). But Joe has problems. His dad is sliding down the slippery slope of mental illness after surviving a serious workplace accident. Now he spends his evenings getting into bothersome barroom brawls with the husbands of women he mistakes for his late wife.
Joe’s other problem is that his company doesn’t have a great vetting policy for prospective employees. One of his delivery-truck drivers, Weston (Brendan Fletcher), moonlights as a drug courier. He transports bags of heroin in the logs. He and his partner in crime, Hallet (Zahn McClarnon), get into a night-time accident during one of their expeditions. Short on options, they elect to stash the drugs in Joe’s secluded, conveniently-located hunting cabin.
That doesn’t sound like a good idea.
No, it doesn’t. The next day, when Weston and Hallet return to the cabin with Kassen (Garret Dillahunt), the kingpin whose stash they stashed, they find Joe and Linden there enjoying a tough chat about Linden’s inevitable full-time medical care. Also present is Charlotte, who snuck aboard Joe’s truck, fancying the day out. The movie has no shame in this regard, and nor should it. This is, after all, a melodramatic action B-movie.
So, is Joe retired Special Forces or an ex-cop or something?
No, actually. The script, by Michael Nilon and Thomas Pa’a Sibbett, never bothers to define Joe as anything more than a hardworking family man who is driven to extremes. That sense of a normal guy unravelling is reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Joe might be a little hasty to MacGyver hunting bows and other such weapons from bits and bobs he scrounges from the cabin, and maybe he’s a bit too willing to fire arrows through people’s eyes and clobber them with various household tools, but it’s only in service of some brutally efficient home defence. And, of course, an action movie.
Braven is the debut feature of Lin Oeding, a veteran stunt coordinator and second unit director. His credits include big-budget studio projects like The Equalizer and Inception, but also low-key guilty pleasures like the criminally underrated Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. It’s no surprise that he can construct an action sequence. But what makes his debut feel like the work of a more accomplished filmmaker is how confidently he navigates nuts-and-bolts stuff like spatial continuity; how fully he commits to familiar material; and how ably he jazzes up clichés and conventions. His attentiveness makes Braven better than it has any right to be.
Oh, so it’s good?
I’m grateful to say that it’s a solid, thoroughly professional bit of unhurried genre work that’s modest ambition brings the best out of everyone involved.
There must be problems, though?
Oh, of course. As if to counteract such a simple premise, Braven expands outwards rather than focusing in. It doesn’t tighten basic elements like character and location, but instead piles on more problems for the heroes to deal with. Eventually, Joe’s standoff incorporates local cops and a bow-wielding Stephanie. There are too many moving parts to care about any of them individually.
Braven also suffers from weak, inconsequential bad guys. Good old-fashioned antagonism is what films like this often burn for fuel, but with Kassen’s most notable attempt at villainy being to smoke indoors, Braven’s running on fumes in that department.