I had heard little about The Brave, starring its writer/director Johnny Depp, which opened at Cannes in 1997. About 15 minutes in, I realised why. The film takes a basic story, with a whole lot of potential, and overworks it, which is frustrating, not to say disappointing.

Built around a Faustian trajectory, Johnny Depp stars as Raphael, a Native American, living with his family, who seems to ignore him completely, probably because he is unable to put food on the table, in a shanty town, adjunct to a rubbish tip, where they scavenge to survive. Having spent time in and out of jail all his life, Raphael is so desperate that he sells himself to a snuff movie director, trading his own death, so that his family might have a better future.

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The rest of the movie is about his attempt to win back respect and love, with only seven days left to live. This he does - wait for it - by throwing a huge and colourful fiesta. An unconventional move, I know, but it seems to work.

Somehow, in the middle of a junkyard shanty town, he finds lights, fairground rides, trampolines, swings and all manner of fun and games, thus making the family, drowning in its apathy and disinterest, suddenly welcome him with open arms, which is fortunate, since there are only four days remaining before the Grim Reaper comes to collect.

The unfeasibility of this situation is not the only flaw of the film; there are too many to count. The first 15 minutes is barren of dialogue and, although the cinematography is strong, even Johnny Depp's smouldering good looks and impressive acting are not weighty enough to carry that length of time without a word spoken. I found myself tuning out, never a good sign when you have almost two hours to go.

Marlon Brando puts in a strong performance, as McCarthy, the angel of death, to whom Raphael sells his soul. His lengthy monologue in the torture chamber, where Raphael brokers his deal, is almost a parody of Last Tango In Paris - so Method, so genuine, it seems fake. He is given too much screen time to hold the viewer's attention and, because of this, when you switch off from the words, his image comes under scrutiny and it becomes apparent that there is something of the cartoon villain about him. Rolling around in his wheelchair, all he needs is a black glove and a cat to stroke.

The melodrama increases, as the film winds down to an anticlimactic ending. It feels as if sex-and-violence has been thrown in, because that's what Depp thinks movies are about and not because it adds anything to the narrative.

He takes an age-old story of sacrifice and tries to work in a plot about prejudice, social injustice and human corruption, but doesn't have the directorial talent to pull it off, torturing the life out of the subject matter, while struggling to hold the viewer's attention.

The Brave is not far off belonging on that scrap heap where the film is set.

Reviewed on: 26 May 2003
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A down-on-his-luck Native American strikes a dangerous movie deal to help his family.
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Director: Johnny Depp

Writer: Paul McCudden, J D Depp, Johnny Depp, based on the novel by Gregory McDonald

Starring: Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando, Marshall Bell, Elpidia Carrillo, Frederic Forrest, Clarence Williams III, Luis Guzman, Max Perlich

Year: 1997

Runtime: 123 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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