A straightforward vehicle for Jason Momoa’s undeniable masculinity.
Somewhere between the swaggering everyman pulp of Walking Tall and the claustrophobic brutality of Straw Dogs, you’ll find the serviceably entertaining Braven, a straightforward vehicle for Jason Momoa’s undeniable masculinity.
The erstwhile Aquaman stars as Joe Braven, a humble logger with a doting wife, a cute kid and a father slipping further into alcoholism and dementia. His pops, Linden (Stephen Lang), has a habit of wandering into bars, forgetting his surroundings and getting into altercations. The film’s first bit of action is one of these scuffles, with Joe having to fight off townies to save his dad from a tag team ass whooping.
In the film’s glacially paced first act, it’s the relationship between father and son that the filmmakers seem most interested in, as Joe’s wife, Stephanie (Jill Wagner), and daughter, Charlotte (Sasha Rossof), feel more like wallet photos than actual people. It’s a touching portrait of a herculean mass of man facing down the barrel of a gun in the form of his eventual future. The script isn’t much to write home about, but the fleeting moments it provides of Joe cradling his father in his arms to calm him down during an episode or reassuring the old man that he’s there for him are intimate in a way rarely seen between men in action films.
But a whole movie about a dude and his dad losing it does not a story make. So, there’s also Joe’s slacker co-worker, Weston (Brendan Fletcher), who gets mixed up in drug trafficking. Weston stashes a bunch of dope at Joe’s cabin for the weekend, assuming it’d remain empty until he and his bosses could return to retrieve it. Joe, Linden and a stowaway Charlotte pay the cabin a visit, however, leading to a standoff over the score. This puts Joe and the safety of his clan in direct opposition with Kassen, a shady, off kilter criminal played by Garret Dillahunt. It’s the role of Kassen, clearly designed for a menacing character actor like Michael Shannon, that gives Braven it’s only real bit of bite.
Dillahunt has a ball imbuing this unpredictable antagonist with a fascinating energy that makes you wish he’d been given significantly more screen time. As it stands, the film takes it time establishing Joe’s family dynamics in the hopes of fostering a deep audience connection and suspense for the eventual action-packed catharsis. Director Lin Oeding gets it half right, as the set-up rides just up to the border of laborious, resting right at that point before methodical becomes tedious. It’s just that he doesn’t stick the landing when it comes to the actual violence.
The film features a rustic, wintry take on the shoot out and hand to hand combat paradigm that would be entertaining as a set piece in a larger film populated by other, more varied forms of action. But as the central focus in this film, the last act’s mayhem is underwhelming, featuring enough bloodshed and carnage to be interesting without turning the volume up enough to be truly satisfying. There’s something inarguably thrilling in seeing Momoa heave an axe at a man from yards away while his resourceful spouse riddles that same man with arrows, but by the time the action comes, you’ve been waiting so long for it that anticipation leaves the execution with a lot to be desired.
Sacrifices are made and villains are felled, but neither land with the weight requisite to balance out the patient journey that led to this conclusion. As much as Momoa and Lang overdeliver in the performance category, proving both men a higher caliber of tough guy than either get credit for, the film itself fails to rise to the occasion alongside them. It’s a shame, considering emotional verisimilitude is far harder to achieve in a low budget thriller than rewarding on screen action. The former is impressive, but it only proves to highlight the absence of the latter.