Director: Lin Oeding
Cast: Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Jill Wagner, Garret Dillahunt, Sasha Rossof, Zahn McClarnon, Brendan Fletcher
MPAA Rating: (for violence and for language throughout including some sexual references)
Running Time: 1:34
Release Date: 2/2/18 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 1, 2018
Braven feels like a throwback to the mid-range-budgeted action movies of the 1990s. They had setups that were simple enough to be called high-concept, but those premises were almost too rudimentary to warrant even that. A lot of them, one will probably recall, were sold as the vehicle for one of the handful of action stars of the era. The actor's name would be enough to sell tickets, so the advertising featured the name prominently—often in letters as big as or bigger than the title of the movie itself.
Here's the plot of Thomas Pa'a Sibbet'ts screenplay: A man has to protect his home and his family from a ruthless drug dealer and the criminal's assorted henchmen. That's it. As with those earlier actioners, though, there's a bit of a hook: The setting is a cabin in and the surrounding region of some mountains in Canada. That's also about it, except to add that the hero is a normal, working class-guy, whose only experience in fighting is getting into some bar brawls. He only fights, it seems, when someone he loves is in trouble. He doesn't win those fights all the time, either.
The hero is played by Jason Momoa, who shows here that he may have been born about 30 years too late for his acting career. He would have fit in perfectly with those other action stars of the '80s and '90s, with his hulking frame and his ability to stare down bad guys without blinking or winking. His last name probably would have looked good in huge letters on billboards, TV commercials, and posters, too.
One of the minor joys of director Lin Oeding's film is watching Momoa give a sturdy performance to back up his physicality and natural star power. He's the kind of actor who easily could be typecast as a generic heavy or a superhero (as he has been cast in the past), but as the almost too aptly named Joe Braven, Momoa exhibits a lot more beneath the surface than we'd expect from this type of character in this type of movie.
Joe is a logger, a boss, a husband, a father, and a son. He's just your regular guy, living in a remote town in the northern wilderness. When he isn't working, Joe's a good husband to Stephanie (Jill Wagner) and an attentive, joking father to Charlotte (Sasha Rossof).
His father Linden (Stephen Lang) suffered a severe head injury after taking a long fall on the job, and his memory is going. Joe has to rescue his old man when he wanders away from home. He gets into a bar fight early on, after some guys don't take to kindly to Linden trying to grab a woman he has mistaken for his wife. The fight establishes a couple of things about Joe: He'll get into one when necessary, and he's not good enough at fighting not to take a beating.
The story proper begins after one of Joe's employees hides some cocaine in his boss' cabin in the woods. Kassen (Garret Dillahunt), the crime boss, wants his product back, but Joe has taken his father for a short trip to the cabin, hoping that it'll help his condition. Charlotte hid in her father's truck to join them, and now there's a group of men approaching, willing to kill all of them to get back the drugs.
What follows is an extended standoff—a lengthy game of cat-and-mouse—in which Joe and Linden, armed only with their wits and some random tools and a hunting rifle, have to face off against a team of well-armed men with orders to murder anyone in the cabin once the drugs are in Kassen's possession. Sibbett's screenplay is effective, not only for what it does well, but also for avoiding the missteps that it easily could have made.
What it gets right is, of course, its sense of isolated helplessness, as well as the need for our heroes to be smarter, more cunning, and more resourceful than just shooting or fighting the bad guys. Linden sits in the upstairs of the cabin, spotting henchmen with the scope of his rifle, waiting for his son to figure out how to prevent the bad guys from storming the cabin—and how to get his daughter out of danger.
One of the cheap things a movie such as this can do—and often does—is to use a kid as an easy way to create suspense. With a single chase in through the woods, Sibbett essentially removes that element from the story. When the child-in-peril scenario arises again, the film dismisses it quickly. It does so by introducing Stephanie into the mix. We think she's on a path to the cabin to become yet another potential hostage or cheap suspense tactic, but no, she's as capable of handling herself as Joe.
That's the primary thrill of the film—watching Sibbett set up what appear to be predictable clichés, only to demolish them once they come into play. We know, for example, that there'll be a moment when Linden's memory becomes an issue, but instead of dragging it out for peril, the film gives us a quiet, tender moment between father and son—one that, somehow, doesn't stop the story dead in its tracks. Even the cops here aren't as incompetent as hundreds of similar movies have led us to expect.
This is a solid, more-than-competent action film. Braven follows through on its claustrophobic setup and the promise of a hero who needs to be as clever as he is tough. With Momoa as that hero, we accept both of those characteristics.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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