Synopsis – A logger defends his family from a group of dangerous drug runners.
My Take – Now days if you ask someone to recommend a good action film, he/she would probably end up regarding the recently released Marvel super hero film, or some big-budget sci-fi film, but for the ones who grew up in the 80s and the 90s, action films were a different commodity totally. While big blockbusters get most of the attention there’s a lot of fun to be had at the other end of the spectrum where little guys take down big threats for good causes. Here, the film in question headed by the latest action star on the block, Jason Momoa (who despite his ripped figure also carries that relatable every man quality), feels like one of those, which had setups that were simple enough to be called high-concept, but usually revolved around an average Joe caught up between some really bad people, for example, Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Does that make it bad? Not really. Sure, this is the kind of the film that does well in VOD market rather than theatrical release now days and yet, this film from director Lin Oeding surprised me in many ways for a film that I have no expectation at all, mainly for being an unpretentious, thoroughly enjoyable throwback to a kind of unfussy, star-driven action vehicle that you don’t see too much of anymore. This entirely solid little B-film is especially for those itching for the protects-his-brood pictures even big studios used to churn out a few decades back. The story follows Joe Braven (Jason Momoa), logger and a typical family man, who lives with his wife, Stephanie (Jill Wagner), young daughter, Charlotte (Sasha Rossof), and his retired father, Linden (Stephen Lang) in a comfortable home in a small town. But life hasn’t been easy ever since Linden suffered a brain injury, which has left him suffering from dementia.
After yet another trouble at the local bar, Joe decides to take Linden out to their cabin in the snowy wilderness for some quiet time so they can decide what kind of help Linden will require once they get back. However, unknown to them, one of Joe’s employees has stashed a ton of drugs in the cabin, and he is back with a psychotic drug lord named Kassen (Garret Dillahunt), who not only wants the bag back, but also instructs his men to not leave any witnesses alive. 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, has to face off against a team of well-armed men. As expected the plot is quite simple, and director Lin Oeding and writers Michael Nilon and Thomas Pa’a Sibbett ensure that straightforward plot, a noir-ish, wrong place, wrong time, normal guy trapped in a horrific situation, is the film’s strength. The film takes its time getting to where it’s going, as the first act lays the groundwork with the drug dealers and all, but the primary focus falls on Joe and the rest of the family, and their trials and tribulations. We’re given just enough — more than enough — character work to show us that Joe and his family are good people, and with our affection firmly on their side the ensuing fight becomes one we’re invested in. The relationship with his father adds a touch more texture. It’s the heart of the script and where any legitimate emotion lies. We watch Joe struggle to watch his father deteriorate—in the manliest way possible, he chops wood late at night to clear his heard. We also see his dad try to wrap his head around the same issues. The film’s split pretty evenly with its first half focused on character, setup, and building tension, but once the first body hits the snow things remain in high gear until the end. What director Oeding 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. Even Kassen’s guys, who begin with a military precision, amount to nothing but cardboard-cut-out goons. There are some nice flourishes, like a flaming hatchet fight, and Momoa certainly has the physicality to pull off this style of action. And as someone who immediately scans his surroundings for things to potentially use in just this type of scenario, I appreciate the scenes scoping out the cabin for improvised weapons. Oeding’s direction also makes effective use of the cabin’s small interior while also transforming the heavily wooded and mountainous surrounding area into a labyrinth which Joe, his father, and, eventually, even Joe’s wife, Stephanie, use to their strategic advantage during their stand-off against Kassen’s men. The film generates tension from the clean simplicity of its conflict and plotting, much of which revolves around Joe and his military veteran father’s pragmatic and instinctive reactions to the developing siege. The film wisely keeps the dialogue to a minimum, stripping away all distractions to home in on the tactical details of its lengthy showdown.
The thing I liked here mostly is that people don’t act like genre clichés, for example, children obey their parents when they’re ordered to do certain tasks in order to hopefully save their own lives and get help for their parents, when others learn something strange is happening at the cabin, instead of heading into the middle of the mess like a big old idiot they instead call the police and let them know what they think might be going on and instead of laughing at the strange, almost comical story, said law enforcement treats this information seriously, choosing to investigate instead of sitting idly on their hands like they could care less about the lives of those they’re supposedly sworn to protect. The film comes courtesy of director Lin Oeding, whose primary work comes as a stunt coordinator. As such, you can expect him to nail the action scenes. Here, they are stripped-down, realistic, and rely a lot on the physicality of the actors rather than effects or technology. Cinematographer Brian Andrew Mendoza too keeps the entirety looking good as daylight action from brawls to gun play are presented clear and bright for our viewing pleasure. Stripped-down and without much excess fat, the film delivers more or less exactly what it promises. But while decently entertaining, it could have been something a bit more, mainly as the film throws logic out of the window during its final scenes, in which both hero and villain seem to be driven by primal urge rather than sense, and a final showdown is simply too silly to take seriously, even in something like this. The film 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. The film also feels shaky and insecure at times, like the director stuck with what he was sure he could pull off and didn’t want to rock the boat for any more than that, and that’s okay, for a debut film. However, the main reason to add this film to your watch list is to see how Jason Momoa can flex his muscles before he takes on the role of the much awaited adaption of the DC character, Aquaman. Sure, he hasn’t distinguished himself as a particularly deep actor over his career. He’s occasionally charismatic, and he can handle himself in action scenes, but in terms of dramatic depth, he is still lacking. 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 film. Here 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 this one, which feels built around his outdoorsy look and his wood-chucking sensibilities. Stephen Lang is at his grizzled perfection here, as he portrays his supporting role of Linden well enough to leave a lasting impression. In fact, their engaging father-son chemistry is what elevates the film. Garrett Dillahunt is excellent as the one-dimensional over the top villain who is at times too comical to treat seriously. Jill Wagner and Sasha Rossof also play their parts well. On the whole, ‘Braven‘ is a solid, fast-paced action-thriller which despite a minimal narrative never tries to overstep its bounds or abilities.
Directed – Lin Oeding
Rated – R
Run Time – 94 minutes