Can you have high expectations from a film by a first-time director: Lin Oeding, and a first-time screenwriter: Thomas Pa’a Sibbett? Yes, as soon as you see that the protagonist, Joe Braven, is being played by Jason Momoa.
He seems to be in everything at the moment, whether he’s playing Aquaman, Conan the Barbarian or Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones; Jason Momoa is the modern-day big build action hero reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone.
Finally, though Oeding is new to directing, he has spent more than 20 years as a stunt man or stunt coordinator in some of the biggest action films, including The Equalizer (2014), Spiderman: Homecoming (2017) and Straight Outta Compton (2015) to name just a few from the last couple of years. Surely a good omen for an action film.
From the beginning of the film, it is clear where the film is being set. The opening of the film dwells on wide shots of mountains, snow-covered towns, blizzards of snow falling and mountain animals.
Each scene at the beginning is set out in an almost predictable order to introduce the story.
First, the protagonist Joe Braven (Jason Momoa) is introduced checking the logs on the truck. Weston (Brendan Fletcher) is introduced next as Braven’s screw up a buddy who drives the truck. Then Braven’s family is introduced, including his wife, Stephanie (Jill Wagner); daughter, Charlotte (Sasha Rossof); and his dad, Linden (Stephen Lang).
The story continues from there, it seems to follow the simplest story arc possible, there is no suspense at all in the film. As a viewer, you don’t get to enjoy discovering little snippets of information about the characters.
Things are not only just said, but they are also even diagnosed by the doctor. The viewer knows immediately what is wrong with Linden, even after the first scene where he has forgotten why he went to the garage.
It is then needlessly reinforced in the bar scene where he mistakes a young woman for his deceased wife. If you hadn’t worked it out by now, the doctor at the hospital explains to Braven and his family (as if they didn’t know already) what is wrong with Linden.
The dialogue in the film seems amateurish and as if the dialogue wasn’t bad enough so far, the first scene with Kassen (Garret Dillahunt), takes it to another level. His meeting with an associate in a café is so poor, it borders on comical for all the wrong reasons.
Between Kassen’s rebellious smoking, his out of place sarcasm on his phone call and putting his finger to his lips to quiet the waitress, Dillahunt is about as believable as the antagonist as Kermit the Frog. This is where the film falls down, as a viewer there is no real conflict, as you never feel that Kassen could beat Braven.
You can draw similarities between Braven and a number of Sylvester Stallone movies, but in particular Cliffhanger (1993).
The landscape is the same mountainous, unrelenting cold. The protagonist is going into a situation unprepared and unaware of the stipulations; Braven finding his isolated cabin full of drugs, Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone, Cliffhanger) finds himself in amongst a group of thieves looking to find $100 million.
Both Braven and Walker have no interest in the money/drugs, they want to leave safely and not be in the situation. The difference, however, is the believability of the antagonists.
In Cliffhanger, Qualen (John Lithgow) is ruthless and believably so; the same cannot be said for Kassen, who feels uncomfortable, neither serious and ruthless, or anything other than half-heartedly humorous.
Having said that, the script wasn’t going to make this film. With the director a stunt coordinator, how good is the action?
It’s good, well worth the wait through the hammy dialogue. There are moments where it is pretty cool and a few that seem like missed opportunities.
The car chase of Braven on a quad bike through the snow – missed the opportunity. They go straight and then straight and then Braven turns, land rover stops. That’s it!
Having said that there are moments of brilliance such as when the henchman looks through the window in the front door only to see Braven with a bow and arrow which swiftly gets fired through his eye, epic.
The moment the inept Hallett (Zahn McClarnon) enters the house to find Linden who effortlessly puts a blade through Hallett’s boot, blocks his gun and forces a kebab skewer up through his jaw and into his brain.
During the final confrontation between Braven and the drug dealers, there are some amazing pieces of action, particularly Braven’s use of axes and fire. Some parts are unrealistic and feel almost out of character and unnecessary, and by that, I mean how Braven finally defeats Kassen using the bear trap.
When there is action in this film it is outstandingly executed by Braven and his father Linden. Even the sequences with Stephanie and her bow and arrow are pretty awesome.
There are elements of this film which let it down. There is just too much running, and running without a feeling of peril. There seems a lack of peril throughout the film and you never really believe that anything bad is going to happen.
For the amount of time, and screen time, that Braven’s daughter Charlotte spends running around the forest, it never feels like she is in any real danger.
All in all this film was enjoyable. The entire Braven family put in stellar performances, both in terms of their believability and their action skills.
Momoa (Joe Braven) and Lang (Linden) do a fantastic job throughout the film. The biggest problem in this film is that it never feels like Braven is being hunted, more the other way around.
You never feel like there is any chance the drug dealers, led by Kassen, are going to be successful, and therefore the story feels very one dimensional.