The Brave (1997)

Later in his strange life, Marlon Brando hooked up with Johnny Depp and there are some amusing stories out there about the pair of them, which are all pretty much gossip, and which generally involve the older statesman giving the young buck good advice.  Still, it must have been exciting for Depp to have such a famous person looking out for him, and when it came to making his directorial debut, it must have helped Depp that he could call on Brando to fill a few minutes of screen time. I wonder if Marlon Brando charged Depp his habitually insane fees?  He had whole atolls to support, after all...

If you’re watching The Brave then it might be wise to know a little about its subject matter first, because you may not be able to stomach it. It’s the only film that Johnny Depp has directed to date, and although it seems rather slow this isn’t a problem, as the acting is good and the settings are likewise, intriguing and colourful. The supporting cast is also strong, with Frederic Forrest in a small role, Luis Guzman his usual repugnant and squashy self, and even a cameo from Iggy Pop. Particularly evil is Marshall Bell, who plays the host of the sinister redneck gang behind the film’s hidden atrocity, and its deep in Marshall Bell’s cellar that we find Marlon Brando warming up for another weird outing.

The more appearances Brando made like this in his later life, the more grateful I feel that he limited his screen time, largely because the overacting becomes too much to bear. It’s OK for five minutes or so, because you find yourself enjoying the fact that it’s Brando, and nothing else, but this doesn’t half detract from the film. Calling it overacting isn’t quite fair either, but the effect is the same; it looks like Brando is trying all his tricks at once and is concentrating so hard on putting in a performance, that the performance itself is lost.

The Brave manages just well enough to hold attention however, but does feel like a debut directorial work. There are far too many David Lynch style moments and characters in the film, which is a pity, because you have to be David Lynch to do David Lynch, and merely having a silent character sitting in the corner, making faces and being all creepy, just doesn’t mean you can enter that world.

And as for the film, as I’ve said, I wasn’t prepared for the subject matter of The Brave which successfully sticks in your head for several days after watching it. Do groups of people really do this in America? I am not going to say what, but if they do, it is a sicker world by far than I imagined.

I guess from Apocalypse Now (1979) onwards, viewers never get to see a whole Brando, as he became worried about his weight. Here in The Brave, he sits plumped in a wheelchair, and even after seeing his scene a couple of times, I find it hard to recall anything particular about it, other than the fact the he pointlessly plays the harmonica. We never see him again, and are left to enjoy the film, which builds horribly to a climax that makes me wish Johnny Depp would do some more directing. I’m not sure why the film wasn’t shown in the United States, because even though it shows levels of poverty and abuse that US citizens would be ashamed of, it is still dramatically satisfying and powerful enough to turn the stomach, and that without showing any graphic violence.

As a curiosity, The Brave is worthwhile, and although it isn't much good, I'm still surprised no American distributor picked it up.  Yes, it's far too heavy handed in terms of its 'white man is a villain' message, and yes there is an embarrassing amount of windy theorising about death from Brando.  And yet why do we find ourselves here again, discussing 'the greatest screen actor of all time,' and having to review another pratfall, another headfirst plummet into the garbage can for Marlon Brando, in anotehr ridiculous performance that fails to work even on the most basic level. Because all of that applies to marlon Brando in The Brave, and so many other works from not just his final years, but his final decades also.

Whatever the stushie, it’s been very hard for me to take Johnny Depp seriously after I read about his attempts to remove his ill-fated ‘Winona Forever’ tattoo, which according to Wikipedia, now says simply ‘Wino Forever’. With an attitude like that, I guess he’ll always be welcome in Scotland.