Jason Momoa is… BRAVEN.
BRAVEN is the story of Joe Braven (Jason Momoa, BULLET TO THE HEAD), a nice, rugged logger guy who lives with his family in some snowy area in Newfoundland (or at least that’s where it’s filmed). I really didn’t know what the movie was going to be about, so when he wished a brotherly goodbye and safe driving to his co-worker buddy Weston (Brendan Fletcher, FREDDY VS. JASON) I thought Weston would never come back. And then when his wife Stephanie (Jill Wagner, Blade: The Series) had to leave and repeatedly talked about what she was going to do with him when she got home, I worried she would never come back. And then when he made his daughter Charlotte (Sasha Rossof) go to bed and wait until tomorrow to give her bracelet to grandpa (Stephen Lang, BAND OF THE HAND, DON’T BREATHE), I thought oh shit, Pops is not gonna make it through the night.
Well, I guess none of this is foreshadowing, they’ll all be okay. For a bit. And then they’ll all be in trouble.
Joe (ah, who am I fooling – I gotta call him Braven) is a guy who works out in the woods five days at a time, but man does he love his family when he gets home, and man are they excited to see him. His dad lives with them too and he’s a grouch and a badass and “the strongest man I know,” but he’s starting to have real serious memory problems. The first action scene of the movie is when Braven gets in a bar fight with some guys because they’re beating up his dad for grabbing a girl, thinking she’s his late wife. The doctor tells Braven to figure out some better kind of supervision for him, but neither Braven or the old man are gonna accept putting him in a home (even if they could afford it). Stephanie convinces Braven to take Pops out to a remote cabin they own on the mountain and try to have a talk with him.
It does not go well. It’s a hard talk to have, especially when your dad is this stubborn and angry and self-reliant. And another reason it doesn’t go well is they find a big carrying bag full of heroin bricks in the shed and some drug dealers show up and want to kill them for knowing about it.
See, Weston seems like a nice kid, but he was using his truck route to help this asshole Hallett (Zahn McClarnon, motherfuckin Hanzee from Fargo Season 2, but here playing a weasely fucker who wears a hoodie under a leather jacket) smuggle dope over the border, and they had a blowout and crashed and knew about this cabin and dragged the stash here and their scary boss Kassen (Garret Dillahunt, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, Justified Season 6) is not in the mood to mess around. This is another strong villain role for Dillahunt, with an undercurrent of oddness that’s one part darkly humorous, two parts intimidating.
Momoa’s size and demeanor have given him a leg up on playing barbarians and aqua-men and having ax fights with Stallone. But sometimes in real life he’ll wear a hat like Jimi Hendrix would wear with shorts and sandals, and he’s married to Lisa Bonet. The character of Braven covers both sides of the Momoa coin, balancing outsized man-of-the-wilderness machismo with emotion and sensitivity for a Swayzian ideal of masculinity.
Braven is the kind of guy who always has work to do on the house or the yard or the truck or the cabin, usually while wearing some sort of Carhartt gear. He carries the key to the padlock to the chain blocking the private mountain road. He teaches his daughter to hunt and his dad says he’s not teaching her right. The bartender and the cops know him and his family and his phone number. No military history is mentioned, and he doesn’t demonstrate martial arts skills. The fights are more cowboy movie saloon brawl style. There are excellent improvised weapons, tricks and traps. Pops uses the rifle, Braven uses arrows, an ax, fire. He drives an ATV, breaks glass with his body, uses his jacket to shimmy up a tree, falls off a cliff, survives extreme cold – a mini-THE REVENANT themed weekend getaway. He grunts, growls and roars, making a run at the title of most animalistic action star.
For the most part nobody comments on him being a big scary guy, but at one point someone tells him to “get your sasquatch ass back in there.”
By the way, do you think this movie was an attempt to get out of doing that remake of THE CROW? “Oh yeah, I’d love to play Eric Draven, but audiences already know me as Joe Braven, it’s just too close, sorry guys.”
Director Lin Oeding is a stuntman turned TV director (including two episodes of Warrior, the upcoming show based on Bruce Lee’s original treatment for Kung Fu). He was second unit director and stunt coordinator for BAYTOWN OUTLAWS and STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON. I’m guessing he might’ve known Momoa from playing a part in BULLET TO THE HEAD and working on the stunt pre-viz.
That background is not what I would’ve guessed. Oeding and cinematographer Brian Mendoza (whose only other feature is ROAD TO PALOMA, directed by Momoa, and who played a monk in his CONAN movie) come up with a slick look and strong atmosphere using genuine snowfall, visible breath (even indoors) and the glow of headlights on otherwise dark mountain roads. The setting seems very real and I’m convinced that Momoa really dove into ice cold water.
This is a pure and true vehicle for Momoa because he and his friends created it specifically as the type of role he’d like to play. A story credit goes to his manager Michael Nilon (also producer of six recent Nic Cage DTV movies including THE TRUST), who got the idea from a cousin named Joe. A very capable, rugged outdoorsman who loves his family sounds pretty basic and normal, but Braven goes full stop with both aspects. It’s the rare action movie where the whole family has a real chemistry and love for each other that feels genuine. There’s a sincerity and authenticity to the way he talks to his wife or jokes with his giggling daughter or tries to calm his dad when he thinks he wants to put him in a home. While defending the cabin and planning an offense he keeps calmly telling his daughter “It’s going to be okay” and “I love you.” Enough for a drinking game.
And they all get involved in the action. His father is sort of like the sidekick, his daughter has a major task to accomplish and when his wife catches wind of what’s happening she shows up with a bow and arrow. (I knew in the earl scenes when she came home from – I thought – work with a bow over her shoulder that this was gonna be my type of movie.)
It’s short and simple, and stunt coordinatory/second unit director Robert Alonzo (OBLIVION, DEADPOOL, PROUD MARY) does good work, but it’s very much a character driven action story. It’s more about rooting for this guy I like to save his family than for him to look awesome while doing it. Although he often does. But to give you an idea how seriously it takes the pathos, there’s a scene where Braven has to cradle his dad and remind him who he is while shielding him from gunfire. I’ve told you guys about my late dad and his early onset Alzheimers. Of course that experience made the dementia part of the story hit harder for me than it will for some people. It actually made me feel pretty inadequate because not only could I not do any of the badass shit Braven does, I never could’ve driven my dad out to a cabin to talk to him about it. I don’t have a cabin, or a truck, or a house to drive the truck from to the cabin.
But we don’t usually, and probly shouldn’t, watch action movies to try to measure ourselves against their heroes. Instead we tend to use them as inspirational or aspirational figures. Few of us are born of Momoa’s barbarian poet stock. But we can work to find our inner Braven.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.