by Rob DiCristino
There’s great tradition in wilderness survival films — stories of rugged and individualistic frontiersmen whose command over the elements gives them the godlike power to climb trees and fight bears and all that. Build fires. Stuff I can’t do. Anyway, stark and unforgiving landscapes are great metaphors for life’s cold brutality, and the (usually flanneled) hero’s journey into the unknown will strip them of their extraneous bullshit and reveal a deeper truth about their inner potential. That truth is the intangible X factor that helps them overcome the enemy (be it human or bear — again, bears are terrifying) and return to their familiar world. Of course, none of this really applies to Braven, the feature debut of stuntman-turned-director Lin Oeding. It’s a plodding adventure yarn that seems to exist as a star vehicle for Justice League’s Jason Momoa who, though he first made his mark as the ruthless Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones, has quickly established himself as Hollywood’s premier gym bro with a heart of gold. His are Sensitive Muscles built over long hours nursing sick puppies and picking roses for your mom. Momoa is the best thing about the otherwise unremarkable Braven, which is perhaps a necessary step on the Bad Batch actor’s path to legitimate stardom.
Home Alone up in this bitch.
Though it was likely greenlit to capitalize on the success of films like The Revenant and Interstellar, it’s hard to watch Braven in 2018 and not think about the work of Taylor Sheridan, the major creative force behind films like Sicario, Hell or High Water, and Wind River. Sheridan understands all that metaphorical narrative bullshit I talked about earlier, and his films use the surface elements of character and setting to develop deeper themes. Apart from the well-worn idea that “a man should defend what’s his,” there’s very little thematic development going on in Braven, nor does it show off any special affinity for excessive violence or style. We’re in the age of The Raid and John Wick, after all, and it’s a significant bummer to see such bland and neutered action from Lin Oeding, a stunt performer whose career dates back to the late ‘90s. The film offers one fun gag in which Joe hits a guy with a flaming axe and a bottle of moonshine, but the other significant kills — even one involving a hot poker — are presented in quick cuts with most of the gore left off screen. This isn’t a rating things, mind you, because Weston and his buddy Hallett (Zahn McClarnon) use the word “fuck” like they just discovered it. As a result, the film’s attempts to earn its R rating ultimately come off as immature and uninspired.
*I wrote this as “Canadian lager” at least three times before catching the typo.
^Is that going to catch on? Should I stop trying to make that happen?