People watch different films for different reasons. Some watch romcoms to swoon over their latest celebrity crush, some seek a good drama to stimulate their heart and soul. Others gravitate to the feeling of justice in a good revenge film.
There’s a simple formula with revenge flicks that transcends boundaries. Whether it’s the Bride avenging her unborn baby in Kill Bill, a gangster looking to reclaim his lost cut of a robbery in Payback, or merely killing the wrong man’s puppy in John Wick, many of these films start by establishing a protagonist and the thing they hold dear. Add to that an antagonist threatening that precious thing, a slew of subsequent badass action scenes and the job is mostly done.
Stunt coordinator-turned-director, Lin Oeding’s debut feature Braven follows that perenially popular formula. The film features Jason Mamoa, aka Khal Drogo from the Game of Thrones TV series, as Joe Braven, father, lumberjack and business owner in Canada’s snowy Newfoundland. A cuddly scene fairly early on in the film establishes that nothing is more important to Braven than his wife (Jill Wagner), daughter (Sasha Rossof) and father (Stephen Lang). First tick in the box.
A road accident gives a conniving co-worker – who moonlights as a drug mule – the bright idea to stash his goods in Braven’s cabin. Unwittingly, however, he leads a dangerous druglord, Kassen (Garrett Dillahunt), to our hero’s door. Kassen announces himself as a ruthless villain by bashing someone’s skull in with an ashtray within his first two minutes on screen and annoucing there are to be no witnesses. Second Tick.
Oeding’s background shines in the ensuing actions scenes where the fight choreography is suitably gritty – a welcome change from the comic book movies where one punch can knock a guy into the next time zone. The audience can feel the pain when blows land and Braven is no bullet-proof hero – he gets knocked around quite a bit himself. All this before we dive into some impressive axe throwing and knock-out archery by Braven’s wife, Stephanie. Third tick.
That’s the holy trifecta of revenge flicks achieved, but what’s missing and what holds this film back from its full potential is plot and character development. Background information on any of the characters is scant with Braven having no other reason than being a logger with his family at stake to possess the killer instincts of an expert assassin. Nor is a single sentence uttered to prepare the audience for what kind of villain Kassen is. Is he a sociopath who relishes torture or is he a psychopath who stabs you in the back? While one may argue that’s not the kind of stuff that makes or breaks a revenge flick, without it, there isn't any tension between the good guys and bad guys. We aren’t on the edge of our seats in trepidation of Kassen’s impending cruelty or betrayal, and the void of context eventually detracts from the scene when Braven inevitably gets his revenge.
Oeding’s debut as a director is solid and creates an engrossing action movie. Combined with an opportune moment where Jason Mamoa takes off his shirt in the dead of winter (much appreciated by those of us who care), it’s plenty entertaining.
If you’ve had a hard day and want to watch something to restore your sense of justice in this world, then Braven has all the boxes well and truly ticked.