“You’re a tough fucker, Joe, I’ll give you that.”
Despite the somewhat odd name, Braven is the throwback action fare that cable subscribers got used to seeing on television every weekend. These films would feature an average man besieged on all sides by generic villains, typically ones with facial scars or other distinctive features. Sometimes these conflicts would occur because of mistaken identity, the man would own something that used to belong to the villains, or the villain would commit heinous acts just for the sake of it (like Roadhouse). Usually, the average man then overcomes an absurd amount of obstacles to save his family. Braven follows the template almost to a T. Average man is a humble logger, Joe, (Jason Momoa), who, along with his father (Stephen Lang), is vacationing at a remote hunting cabin yearly. The villain is a shorn (and incredibly welcome) Garret Dillahunt.
Director Lin Oeding has a background in stunt-work from films like Logan, The Equalizer, and Inception, so it goes without saying that chaos and bad-ass fights are the driving force behind Braven. The script, written by first-timer, Thomas Pa’a Sibbett, and long-time producer of bad Nicolas Cage movies, Michael Nilon, suggests that the story might get lost along the way. Pleasantly enough, that isn’t the case for Braven. “Die Hard in a ______ ” was the sales pitch for a lot of movies, but the laziness of what followed is what killed many of those homages. Braven doesn’t skimp on character, the fight sequences, or a good villain, and succeeds because of the extra effort.
Jason Momoa occupies that same likable working man space Arnold Schwarzenegger cultivated so well in the 80s and 90s. He has that easygoing charisma to carry him through most of the build-up, while simultaneously possessing the chops for a fist fight. Lin Oeding throws a lot of combat of various skill Momoa’s way, and he does it all with flair. Justice League may not have earned a lot of goodwill but anyone still unaware of Momoa from Game of Thrones and The Red Road can use this film as a stepping stone to catch the future Aquaman star in action.
The only place Braven tends to falter is in the follow-through of the relationship between Joe and his father Linden (Lang). Linden is in the throes of early Alzheimers, and an uncomfortable conversation about supervision or home care must be had, but Joe is reluctant to do so. As a type of recompense, they both go to a family cabin in the woods to hash things out. Pillow shots of the mountain landscape’s rugged beauty are truly beautiful, making the cabin spot ideal for peace and quiet. Well, usually it would be, but it’s currently being used by traffickers as a heroin stash. When Dillahunt’s men descend upon the cabin intent on killing anyone inside, Joe and Linden must fight to survive. That the situation between Joe and Linden doesn’t get resolved in a totally satisfactory manner is tough, yet fair considering the film’s genre bent.
Still, with all of the craziness that Braven delivers, audiences would be remiss if they didn’t seek this flick out for a cold winter night. At one point, Momoa throws a flaming hatchet right into a man’s face. If you need more than that, Braven is not the February release for you. Another delightful surprise is the way Joe’s wife gets in on the action. Not being offered up as any damsel, Stephanie (Jill Wagner), gets to prove her skills as an archer, proving for some rarely seen husband-wife teamwork in an action film. The pacing is a little slow–the film is 94 minutes long but the fighting doesn’t start until minute 50–but even that could be forgiven given the delightful turn Garret Dillahunt delivers as the head baddie. Dillahunt has been on just about every show possible in the last decade, though it’s fun to watch him chew the scenery on the big screen and be the pain-in-the-ass we remember him as from Deadwood, Justified, and so on. When Dillahunt breaks down and asks Joe “what the fuck’s your problem?” I just howled. These lower-budget actioner throwbacks need to come back, and Braven might just help accomplish that.