Directed by Lin Oeding.
Starring Jason Momoa, Jill Wagner, Garret Dillahunt, Zahn McClarnon, Stephen Lang, Brendan Fletcher, Teach Grant, and Sasha Rossof.
A logger defends his family from a group of dangerous drug runners.
Lin Oeding’s Braven is the kind of 90s punch-in-the-mouth action flick us genre fans fight tooth-and-nail to find nowadays. A deliciously junkfood Jason Momoa centerpiece that could be wedged right between Commando and Cobra watches. Hell, Oeding’s opening lumberjack sequence is a straight callback to 1985’s Arnold Schwarzenegger classic (missed opportunity not having Momoa carry a log, if you ask me). Reluctant heroes, stone-cold criminals, packages of dope – it’s everything we love about cheesy survival flicks with zero hassle. Simplicity be damned.
Momoa stars as the titular Joe Braven, a hard-working family man with an honest conscience. In addition to providing for wife Stephanie (Jill Wagner) and daughter Charlotte (Sasha Rossof), pops Linden (Stephen Lang) requires attention at all times given his frequent mental blackouts. With things as they are, Joe brings Linden to their getaway cabin under the guise of closing up for the winter. He confronts his father about wandering into bars and pulling women who are clearly not his wife, but before their family squabble can reach peaceful accord, a bag of drugs is uncovered. Then two black SUVs pull up. Turns out someone stashed their shipment in Joe’s cabin and now they’ve returned to collect – no witnesses left behind.
As proper bruise-first brawlers do, fists fly early and plotlines are sparse. We know Joe Braven is some kinda burly hunter’s man who’d do anything to protect his family – demonstrated when he jumps three tavern locals who are working over Lang’s elder Braven. Oeding strokes his lead warrior’s sensitive side – razzing Charlotte before bed and tossing mommy into the snow – but the director also makes sure to unleash Joe’s ferocious animal spirit (hurling vested plaid-bros into tabletop bar fixtures). Exposition is spotty like a bare oak tree, leaking just enough information as needed. Joe Braven can kick ass, some dummies picked the wrong stash house and thugs will pay dearly. That’s for damn sure.
In true Backwoods Don fashion, Garret Dillahunt plays an irrationally volatile drug kingpin who’ll kill bad-news-bringing henchmen right over their cod dinners – in public – just so everyone knows how lenient he’s not. Do Joe and Linden really *need* to die since they’re less than innocent bystanders? Probably not, but Dillahunt’s quickly-barked orders don’t allow us much time to think about why all the bloodshed is necessary. He is, just for kicks, a mean sonofabitch with even nastier accomplices who unload tactical assault weapons. Wonderfully suited for the film’s commitment to siege-and-defend hard knocks.
Braven is a showcase for Momoa to flex his papa bear muscles, which he does like the Arnie’s and Stallone’s of yesteryear. Joe’s more beast than man – puffing literal grunts when heated – and incredibly invested in his hulkified Grizzly Adams ode. Whether he’s planting a flaming axe into someone’s back before a moonshine bath or chucking men off cliffs, Joe Braven is a man of punishing principle who Oeding himself cannot contain. Fights rarely come down to gunshot kills and Momoa always has to work for his prize, but again, it’s right back to that lumpy, take-your-licks kind of thriller that establishes one goal: live. Joe aims to do just that, and he’s the right blend of adoring partner and hardware-chucking forest monster you can’t help but root for.
To be fair, Joe’s whole family gets involved – especially Lang’s leathery senior. His senility is never an issue once bullets start flying (portrayed with crushing resistance by Lang), with Linden blasting scoped rifle rounds from the cabin’s top-floor lookout nest. One overzealous chatterbox thug (Zahn McClarnon) tries to sneak in, permitting Lang to spike his mark with a skewering headache kill. Luckily little Charlotte is off calling for help as a very Braven kin would, while Stephanie joins the fun with her crossbow because what’s better than a family who fights together? It’s enough to see Joe Braven string a wooden bow then pop a drug runner’s head by sending an arrow through his front door’s tiny peep opening. Stephanie’s entry is icing on the cake, as two pissed-off parents tag team anyone who dares threaten their cub.
Visual themes tie into the animal imagery laid atop Braven’s opening credits, as Oeding channels woodland fighting styles during Joe’s restless offensive. The director’s some 122 stunt credits play into confident action choreography by way of knife fights or Momoa’s constant flying squirrel act (dude loves jumping on thugs), setting the film’s me-vs-you credo ablaze. It’s accepted without hesitation that Joe Braven isn’t being offered a choice, so he plants his feet and waits for the bull’s horns. No hesitation, maximum strides towards crafting arrow-tipped enjoyment in the form of bashed baddies.
If there’s one thing Braven knows how to do, it’s show you a bloody good time. Michael Nilon and Thomas Pa’a Sibbett draft a formula-heavy assault, but Lin Oeding plants headshot after headshot as far as execution is concerned. Ninety minutes of Jason Momoa making Stephen Lang look normal human sized while inflicting pain unto those who’ve so foolishly – and thankfully – decided his cabin could use a new Swiss cheese decor aesthetic. One liners traded for piercing stares and a personal armory filled with metal tools, never better than an outdoorsy action star launching his throwing axe mid-stride with deadly accuracy. It’s the kind of watch destined for TNT’s Father’s Day Dad-athon, and I mean that in the best way. What I’d pay for yearly Momoa flicks like this one sandwiched between contractual Aquabro appearances.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★/ Movie: ★★★★