Braven (2018) Review

With a hulking presence and a charismatic personality, the Honolulu-born Jason Momoa should have been a major Hollywood player equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger-like superstar status during his heyday in the 80s and 90s. He may earn some recognition for playing the fan-favourite Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game of Thrones and Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman in last year’s Justice League. But Momoa’s leading-man status is sadly few and far between. The only time I remembered his biggest movie to date where he gets to play a leading role was the Conan the Barbarian reboot back in 2011. Unfortunately, it fared poorly at the box office and killed Momoa’s chance to rise to the ranks of Hollywood’s A-list status. Now, with Braven, I could finally see his true potential for leading a movie after all.

In this movie, Momoa plays Joe Braven where he and his father, Linden (Stephen Lang) forced to take down a group of armed drug runners led by Kassen (Garret Dillahunt), who finds out his goods are hidden inside Braven’s cabin.

Sure, it was a low-budget action movie. The kind that does well in VOD market rather than theatrical release. And yet, Braven surprises me in many ways for a movie that I have no expectation at all. Jason Momoa does a good job playing an everyman beneath his tough-guy exterior and physically-imposing appearance. Kudos also go to Michael Nilon and Thomas Pa’a Sibbett, both making their screenwriting debuts, where they successfully fleshed out Momoa’s character more than just a brawny action role. The movie takes time to develop his character, showcasing Momoa’s Joe Braven as a loving family man blessed with a beautiful wife and an adorable daughter. But despite having a happy family, Braven’s shaky bond with his father, Linden is a polar opposite altogether. Played to grizzled perfection by Stephen Lang, he portrays his supporting role of Linden well enough to leave a lasting impression. In fact, their engaging father-son chemistry is what elevates this otherwise routine action movie.

Jill Wagner and Sasha Rossof, who play Braven’s wife and daughter respectively, are given ample rooms to make their otherwise token characters worthwhile. Take Jill Wagner, for example. Her role of Stephanie is more than just your typical eye candy of a beautiful wife. Again, thanks to Nilon and Pa’a Sibbett’s screenplay, she is given a chance to shine as a resourceful and independent mother who knows how to take care of her own, even when she’s in danger. Garret Dillahunt, in the meantime, is perfectly typecast as a remorseless antagonist.

As for Lin Oeding, the veteran stunt coordinator of high-profile blockbusters with the likes of  Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Spider-Man: Homecoming, showcases some potentials in his feature-length directorial debut. The action sequences are executed in an old-school style, emphasising more on hand-to-hand combats and physical brutality like the bad guys getting killed by an arrow and at one point, flaming axe. It’s just too bad that Braven is hampered by limited resources due to its low-budget status. That means don’t expect this movie to be in the same level of Commando and Cliffhanger, given its familiar setup. I can imagine if Oeding is given a bigger budget, he could have raised the stakes above its generic level.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Brian Andrew Mendoza’s cinematography of the snow-covered landscape of Newfoundland in Canada is particularly arresting for a low-budget feature. Now, if only the action in Braven could match the same level with its well-developed characters and an emotionally-driven storyline, we might have a genre classic this year.

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