BRAVEN Review: Jason Momoa Draws Familial First Blood

My man, you do not deal drugs in this neck of the woods.

It's starting to become clear that we don't value what a treasure Jason Momoa truly is. First off, he's impossibly good looking, all Kānaka smolder with a physical prowess that would make Arnie blush. Secondly, he possesses a genuinely distinctive screen presence, alternating between droll and badass with remarkable ease. At the very least, the former Game of Thrones flame turned bro-y DC Aquaman hasn't been utilized properly. He's always been cast as this sort of tribal "other" , from an ill-advised Conan the Barbarian redux to Ana Lily Amirpour's The Bad Batch. Even the most adoring lens has treated the Hawaiian actor as this alien sex symbol, too afraid to bring him down to earth with the rest of us mortals, while Walter Hill's Bullet To the Head couldn't do much more than make him a silent, brutal thug. 

Braven seeks to change that – finally placing Momoa in a starring role that also strives to make him "just like you and me", while never sacrificing the performer’s somewhat superhuman strength and killing ability. His Joe Braven is essentially the Canadian John Matrix: a snowy lumberjack who arrives home to his gorgeous wife, Stephanie (Jill Wagner), and super cute daughter, Charlotte (Sasha Rossof), both being the absolute apples of his eye. But Braven also struggles with things Everyday Joes worry about, namely a father (Stephen Lang) whose Alzheimer's affliction is beginning to rot the old man’s mind to a point that Joe and his family can't care for him any longer.

After Braven’s “pops” wanders out of their house and into a nearby bar, mistaking a young patron for his dead wife, Joe has to save the still formidable ex-working man from a bar brawl with a bunch of drunk locals. The deputies tell the friendly lumberjack that they totally understand what he's dealing with, but these sorts of encounters have happened one too many times in town. They don't want to arrest either of the Braven boys, but it may come to that if they're called to a similar scene again. Now, Joe's got to make a choice: either have his dad placed under professional medical supervision, or risk the old dog getting himself/someone else seriously hurt during his next spell. Stephanie suggests Joe take "pops" up to their cabin in the woods for the weekend, so the two can talk it over in privacy, man-to-man. 

The problem is: one of Braven’s logging buddies (Brendan Fletcher) has been running drugs on his long-haul truck for local kingpin Kassen (Garret Dillahunt). After an unfortunate accident leaves his rig jack-knifed in the snow, the mule decides to stash the latest load in Joe's cabin. Unluckily for everyone involved, Kassen has a bit of a hot temper and isn't really ready to leave any witnesses once he finds out Joe's uncovered the illicit cargo in his lodge's utility shed. Now, what was supposed to be a warm discussion between a son and his father transforms into all-out war, as the Braven boys find themselves involved in a siege situation with Kassen's mercenaries, who are armed to the teeth with automatic weapons, and a desire to wipe these blue collar heroes from the planet. 

At this point, Braven transforms into Canadian First Blood, with Momoa and Lang going all John Rambo on these bad men. Papa Braven uses a bolt action rifle to pick off gunmen from a primo position in the attic, while Joe steers an ATV out into the wild to try and draw the thugs away from his home (where Charlotte is now hiding in the closet, thanks to hitching a ride with her idols without their knowledge). In the woods, Joe engages in numerous hand-to-hand fights and hunts his attackers with a bow and arrow - survivalist skills he's picked up through years of being "a real man" out on this cold terrain. It's all chest-thumping bullshit, but that's why you sign up to watch a movie like Braven. Jason Momoa gets to become the "everyman" each beer-swilling DTV action aficionado dreams of in their head, a sex God who can go out and skin a deer if his family is in desperate need of food one cold winter’s eve. 

There's a steady competence former stuntman turned TV director Lin Oeding (Chicago Fire) brings to Braven, taking the time to establish an air of dramatic seriousness before letting the chaos overtake the picture. We actually care about these characters, and want to see them make it out of this ordeal alive. Furthermore, Dillahunt is idiosyncratic as usual, delivering an offbeat, colorful villain that's truly memorable (a rarity in these DTV-ready cheap thrills). By the time Momoa's tossing flaming axes, using bear traps to hurl men over cliffs, and Wagner gets in on the action with her own hunting tools, we're cheering these folks on because there's genuine love and devotion shared within this fictional family. Yet beyond anything else, Braven is proof that Momoa can carry an action movie all his own, and deserves more vehicles were he can lay down the law in the name of saving his disarmingly average clan. 

Braven is available now on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD.