Film Review: Braven

This sharply directed, back-against-the-wall thriller features strong performances and stunning winter location photography.
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Small-town lumberjack Joe Braven (Jason Momoa) isn't a violent man—he'd far rather be at home spending quality time with his wife, Stephanie (Jill Wagner), and their young daughter (Sasha Rossof) than out drinking and brawling at the local bar. Which is not to say he can't hold his own: When his still-brawny father, Linden (Stephen Lang)—a military veteran who's showing early-stage Alzheimer's symptoms—gets into a dust-up, Joe is more than capable of going in and getting Pops out.

But there's a conversation to be had, and Joe figures the family's isolated vacation cabin—they're an outdoorsy bunch—would be a good place to have it. So on the pretext of needing help to close the place up for the winter, Joe brings his dad into the already snow-choked woods, where there's no cell service and a single access road, only to find that Charlotte has hitched a ride in the back of the car. Which wouldn't be a problem except that Joe discovers a huge stash of drugs in his shed and as is always the case when a lot of drugs are involved, there's a pack of bad men, led by the very bad Kassen (Garret Dillahunt) coming to pick it up.

While conventional in structure—the lengthy battle that pits family-men Joe and Linden against Kassen's gang strongly recalls the siege portion of Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, which is no small compliment—Braven is much stronger on the character front than many superficially similar films about regular guys forced to take a stand. And Momoa is strikingly good as Joe—the scenes of family calm before the storm have an unforced warmth that transcends the plot requirements. Ditto Lang, whose terror at the prospect of becoming helpless is palpable.

In fact, viewers here for the Death Wish thrills once Joe is pushed too far may be disappointed. There's violence, much of it involving inventive but generally plausible improvisation involving the kind of things found in wilderness cabins, but the focus isn't on show-stopping kill scenes, even though first-time feature director Lin Oeding is a longtime stuntman/stunt coordinator. The local police aren't lazy, useless idiots, and the Braven women (even if Charlotte is a mere slip of a girl) are not helpless pawns. Braven is the kind of movie that in a less blockbuster-driven market would have opened in genre-friendly theatres and found a wider audience through enthusiastic word of mouth.

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