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Braven (2018) Review

Braven was directed by Lin Oeding (Office Uprising), written by Thomas Pa’a Sibbett and stars Jason Momoa (Aquaman, Conan the Barbarian), Garret Dillahunt (Army of the Dead, Fear the Walking Dead), Stephen Lang (Fire Down Below, The Seventh Day), Sasha Rossof (Thinking Speed), Jill Wagner (Splinter, The Legend of 5 Mile Cave), Zahn McClarnon (Hell on the Border, Bone Tomahawk), and Brendan Fletcher (Dangerous, Freddy vs. Jason). It follows a family man as he deals with drama between said family and faces off with a group of drug runners over a mix-up involving cocaine.

The Plot: Braven’s core is largely familiar stuff, a handful of common action movie setups and tropes rolled into one that realistically shouldn’t work as efficiently as it does. Nothing is reinvented or revolutionized aside from a more unique setting than these one-man-army movies are accustomed to, but the writers do a damn good job at keeping things interesting and marginally different.

Joe Braven (Momoa, sporting a sick last name) is the blue-collar hero dealing with plenty of issues, most pressing of which is his father Linden’s (Lang) brain injury, causing him to get into scuffles around town. Joe takes his wife Stephanie (Wagner), Linden, and, unintentionally, the couple’s daughter Charlotte (Rossof) to the family cabin to discuss options. While all this is going on, truck driver and employee of Joe, Weston (Fletcher) is asked by Hallett (McClarnon), a runner for drug trafficker Kassen (Dillahunt), to work for Kassen.

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Once Weston tries transporting product, drugs are spilled and must be stored at the currently empty cabin. You can see where this is going but the movie gets to its destination with ease, an unusual dramatic element in Linden’s injury, and some added tension since it isn’t Joe’s actions that caused any of this. It’s a standoff from there, the Bravens don’t want what they have but Kassen thinks otherwise, sending his goons to take back their product. Braven becomes a siege-style movie that never slips up in its setup due to the common plot threads being simple to pull off, but efficient and simple are all the movie had to be to be good.

The Characters: Keeping with the tropes, Braven’s characters (especially its antagonist) should be familiar to anyone who has seen even just a handful of action movies.

Joe is a badass family man trying to maintain that title while under the tremendous stress of owning a logging company, raising his daughter, pleasing his wife, and supervising his dad. While other movies might’ve played into the idea of Joe being a superhero because of his sheer physical strength and seemingly perfect life, Braven grounds Joe the best it can with the number of real issues plaguing him to a far more sympathetic result.

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Stephanie is the voice of reason around the house, talking to Joe about the problems he faces and always offers solutions. Again, that’s far from unheard of in these types of movies but she isn’t useless throughout the runtime, occasionally supplying more tangible help to Joe and Linden once Kassen makes his demands, which is more than most significant others in action movies get.

Charlotte gets far less, only really existing to meet conventions and get in trouble, still the other characters make her feel more authentic and necessary to the plot than she is. Linden is a great addition to the cast, adding more emotion to the family and to the action by way of his lapsing memory. He’s clearly his father’s son, a hard man with a heart of gold, observational ability, and strength to spare and Lang steals the show in the role.

Kassen and his goons aren’t fantastic in their roles and are mostly just archetypes of action movie bad guys, but Kassen does get the opportunity to impress with his intuition abnormal for his type and his coldness that switches at a moment’s notice to vivid brutality without ever coming off as showboat-y. He’s easy to hate and gets the job done well, as do all of the characters.

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The Action: Like a lot of recent burgeoning action/thriller directors, Oeding comes from a stuntman background which gives him an edge in staging his fights. His shootouts don’t fare the same way though, often times they become interchangeable with numerous other offerings that use the same camera techniques and equipment with equally passable outcomes. It’s when Oeding gets the opportunity from Sibbett’s script to get inventive that the movie’s action really shines, with the action echoing pictures like Assault on Precinct 13 and even Home Alone with Joe’s implementation of traps and usage of the environment more than the Commando’s and Rambo’s that clearly left an imprint on the creators.

Joe and Linden get plenty of creative kills using things like bows and arrows and fire pokers that, again, never feel like the characters revel in the pain; only using what they have out of necessity. Something that’s always appreciated in a movie is when the main character’s profession comes into play during the action, even if it’s only once or twice instead of throughout the runtime.

And Joe does have some uses for his axe-swinging abilities and inclement driving skills that never seem out of place for his character. While some of the sequences can feel a little uninspired in their execution and Charlotte’s place in the action boils down to the child-in-peril cliché, Braven does have a unique setting and tools for its characters to use.

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The Technics: For a first outing as a director, Oeding does very well in setting up his scenes, characters, and tension. None of Braven is perfect but the helmer does work hard to give audiences what they came for while opting to make his setup and story more interesting than most.

There were wise decisions made in picking the crew, with cinematographer Brian Andrew Mendoza (Road to Paloma) taking advantage of the setting and the director’s acquaintance with action movie making, always keeping the action sequences intelligible and the scenery beautiful. Set decoration by Duane Chard is also very good, making the cabin feel lived in instead of a cheap set for low-budget kinetics. The pacing can sag from time to time though, and the music isn’t as active as the rest of the movie, but Braven is a solid first foray into direction.

Oeding’s outing is a solid one, doing most things very well while never breaking molds. Joe is a great leading character, as are Linden and Kassen; and they carry the action and story heartily. Braven is hardly a phenomenal movie but it’s a fun watch from a crew that clearly has a future.

Braven is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Lionsgate. It’s available on various streaming platforms including free with ads on YouTube which I’ve linked below. You can consult JustWatch for other options in your area.

YouTube video
YouTube video
Where to watch Braven
Our Score

2 thoughts on “Braven (2018) Review”

  1. Being a fan of anything Stephen Lang I watched this one back when and remember liking it. Might give it a spin-over some time, Lang on encore is always a safe bet for me and Momoa doesn’t hurt either. Thanks Lukas.

  2. Most of the cast is made up of people who make just about anything better, especially Stephen Lang and Garret Dillahunt.

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