Braven

Braven-1
Filmed in snowy Newfoundland, the trim siege thriller Braven opens with some tasty widescreen views of the landscape. Tasty, but forbidding: You wouldn’t want to live out here, much less die out here. “If I’m gonna get shot I’d rather it’s hot than cold,” said a minor character in Unforgiven. “It hurts more when it’s cold. You know how if you hit your thumb when it’s cold” — and then someone tells him to shut up. But yes. We know. Thrillers or noirs set in the deep freeze have a physical heaviness and more intense painfulness than similar films set in San Diego. So in Braven, when men are stabbed and slashed and bashed and bled, our involuntary sympathetic wincing may feel sharper.

Physical solidity is about all Braven has going for it, but for a low-fat, no-frills sprinter like this, that might be enough, if only it weren’t so stoically laughable. Jason Momoa stars as Joe Braven, who lives up to his name, because you kind of have to. Joe’s pops (Stephen Lang), though neurologically disabled from a brain injury, is also Braven, as are Joe’s wife (Jill Wagner) and young daughter (Sasha Rossof). If the family name were, say, Wimpen, the movie would be even shorter and more anticlimactic. But here, Joe Braven isn’t only a loving husband, affectionate dad, and bringer of pain to lowlifes — he’s also a lumberjack. The sheer number of macho-noble signifiers built into this role Momoa produced for himself is breathtaking and more than a little funny, though the movie seems serenely unaware of the joke.

Joe finishes a hard, robust day of lumberjacking, and his co-worker slinks off to deliver some heroin; when the guy’s lumber truck flips, he finds Joe’s cabin and stashes the drugs there. This would be a better idea if Joe weren’t arriving shortly at the cabin with his addled dad and, unbeknownst to him, little daughter hiding in the back of the truck. Soon enough, bad men led by Garret Dillahunt converge on the cabin looking for the stash. And it’s then that the movie gets weird, because every single good guy in it seems to have secret lives where they had years of top-quality paramilitary training. Joe and his wife both know how to use a bow and arrow, and do so to damaging effect. Joe’s father, in his moments of lucidity, out of nowhere reveals sniper skills that would shame Charles Whitman. Too bad the kid mostly just runs and hides, because otherwise this is a whole hilarious family of expertly skilled killers.

Is Braven a stealth comedy? I mean, Jason Momoa seems to have some sense of humor, and the joshing here could be incredibly deadpan … or it could be presented in utmost monkish seriousness, which of course only makes it all the funnier. The climax involves a bear trap and a cliff, and plays like an unused alternate ending for The Revenant. At one point you’ve got Jason Momoa hanging painfully upside down, blood dripping up his nose, and that would be the ideal time to have him say something like “Man, I really didn’t think this through.” Dwayne Johnson would have. Dwayne Johnson is also maybe the biggest movie star in the world right now, and he headlines nine-figure blockbusters while Momoa gets a Canadian thriller so tightly budgeted it offers a truly cheapjack approximation of a truck crash. Go and do likewise, Jason.

I may have made Braven in its po-faced sincerity and obliviousness to its own goofiness sound more entertaining than it is. In the midst of the somber clownishness Stephen Lang brings vivid fear and pathos to his scenes as the disoriented Grandpa Braven. Joe, grappling with the certainty that his father will need to be “put in a home,” seems like a realistically troubled fellow. “I don’t want to fight, I just want to talk,” Joe tells his dad, not long before he stops talking and starts fighting. I’m not sure why all this painful background is included, except that ultimately Joe’s decision is taken out of his hands, and his responsibility, too. The movie ends up saying that there’s nothing like a good bloodletting to bring a family closer together while resolving the issue of inconveniently disabled elders. On second thought, this movie had better be joking.

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