BRAVEN: A Confident Action Debut
The story of Braven may sound all-too-familiar, yet its wintry setting, inventive action sequences, and a strong presence by Jason Momoa and supporting cast help it to rise above many like-minded films.
Filmed in late 2015, yet just finding its way to our doorstep now, Braven is a film with a lot of promise. Set in the frigid mountaintops of Newfoundland, Canada, it’s the story of a family who unfortunately find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Helmed by first-time director Lin Oeding, it’s a film which hints at an emerging talent to come.
Setting the scene
Braven focuses on Joe Braven (Jason Momoa), a logger and family man who takes care of his slowly losing-his-mind father Linden (a surprisingly nuanced Stephen Lang). After Linden’s latest event which ended up with him getting in a fight with some local drunks, Joe is unsure of how to proceed with future care of his father. At a suggestion from his wife Stephanie (Jill Wagner), he decides to take Linden up to their family cabin for a weekend in order to discuss it with him.
In a coinciding story, Joe’s coworker Weston (Brendan Fletcher) was up late doing log runs (and drug runs) at the Canadian border the night before, and after an unfortunate accident, he and fellow drug runner Hallett (Zahn McClarnon) are forced to stash the drugs somewhere before police arrive. Weston, knowing Joe’s cabin is nearby, offers to stash it there.
You can probably see where this is going: Hallett, along with his boss Kassen (Garret Dillahunt) and a group of men, come to Joe’s cabin the following morning to retrieve the drugs. And so Joe and his father, at this point already there, find themselves on the receiving end of a truly unfortunate situation, which only gets worse when it’s discovered that Joe’s daughter Charlotte (Sasha Rossof) was hiding away in his car.
This slow-burn of a story might be entirely predictable, with the drugs acting as a MacGuffin. Dillahunt‘s Kassen also has all the makings of a mustache-curling villain, even though the underrated Dillahunt is always fun to watch on screen. Thankfully, though, the somewhat generic nature of the narrative is not too invasive to the enjoyment of the film. Because what ensues after the plot is set up is often incredibly engaging to witness.
Die Hard with Jason Momoa
Die Hard is probably one of the best films to compare Braven to, with one man going against the odds for the sake of others. Here, that role is portrayed by Jason Momoa, who between this, Game of Thrones, and Aquaman, is quickly becoming one of the more renowned action stars out there.
His massive frame and stature coupled with piercing eyes and long dark hair all help to give him a strong stage presence. In Braven, he not only excels during the film’s action scenes, but he has a few moments to exude an emotional layer as well, since it is his motivation for fighting.
As a logger, Joe Braven isn’t particularly experienced with taking out bad guys, yet his familiarity of the surrounding woods and the tools on hand are there to help. Weapons utilized in the film include: a bow and arrow, a skewer, an ax, fire, and just for the hell of it, an ax on fire. It’s during these sequences that the film really shines, showing the lengths that a man will go to in order to protect what matters.
Director Lin Oeding, who has a background as a stunt coordinator in various high-profile films, uses the best with his low budget to create immersive action sequences. During the chase scenes, the film’s score comes into full effect, creating a pulse-pounding and fast-paced sense of energy, while quickly edited shots by editor Rob Bonz bring you into the midst of the action. There’s rarely a chance to catch your breath during the final third of Braven, and that is perhaps its most celebratory attribute.
For a film that attempts to ground itself within the bounds of a conceivable reality, though, Braven does occasionally overshoot. There are some scenes, that, though impressively shot, are so over-the-top that they are unbelievable. I’m mostly fine with the trope that bad guys can’t aim, but when the protagonist triumphs through something that clearly should have seriously wounded him, I find it more difficult to suspend disbelief. The film approaches this cliché only a few times throughout, but it’s just enough to be distracting.
In a recent interview on our site with Lin Oeding, he discusses the painstaking process of filming Braven. Shot where the story takes place, in Newfoundland, Canada, the crew had to suffer through negative temperatures and long days with little time to rest, due to them having to utilize the limited amount of daylight. Just reading about the process makes me want to bundle up next to a heater.
Thankfully, their hard work pays off. Director of photography Brian Andrew Mendoza uses the film’s cold-weary backdrop to great effect, making the characters’ plights all the more excruciating to witness. The camera thrusts us into the midst of the action, showing their breaths in the frigid air as well as the clear endurance it must take to tramp through deep snow while running away from someone shooting a gun at you.
At moments, the film also contrasts action with wide shots of the surrounding landscape, with nature acting as a silent presence to the ruthless goings-on.
To conclude, Braven is a fine piece of genre fare. The story itself may sound all-too-familiar, yet its wintry setting, inventive action sequences, and a strong presence by Jason Momoa and supporting cast help it to rise above many like-minded films. Lin Oeding may have just begun his foray into directing, but with Braven and also several projects already in the pipeline, I eagerly anticipate his next cinematic offering.
What are your thoughts on Braven? Do you think Jason Momoa has a strong future as an action star?
Braven was released on February 2, 2018 in the U.S. For all international release dates, click here.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.