The Brave (1997): Johnny Depp's directorial debut featuring a memorable cameo from Marlon Brando

A remarkable modern-day take on Dr. Faustus

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews 

The Brave, Directed By Johnny Depp, starring Marlon Brando, Marshall Bell, Dr. Faustus with a American Indian twist
The Brave (1997) By Johnny Depp
Our Rating: 8.0
IMDb Ratings: 6.2
CastJohnny Depp, Marlon Brando, Marshall Bell
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 123

Summary: A down-on-his-luck American Indian recently released from jail is offered the chance to "star" as the victim of a snuff film, the resulting pay of which could greatly help his poverty stricken family.

The Brave is a 1997 drama film directed by Johnny Depp. Depp’s directorial debut, The Brave is an adaptation of a novel of the same name by American mystery writer Gregory Mcdonald. Johnny Depp, who also plays the movie’s protagonist, co-writes the movie’s screenplay in collaboration with his brother D.P. Depp and Paul McCudden. The Brave premiered at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival where it failed to make a lasting impression on the audience. The movie features a cameo from the legendary Marlon Brando. A modern take on Dr Faustus, The Brave presents the heart-wrenching tale of a poverty-stricken American Indian family of four (father, mother, and two children) living in a small trailer in a shantytown. 

Johnny Depp as Raphael in The Brave, Directed By Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp as Raphael in The Brave
The father (named Raphael), who is only recently released from the jail, is offered the chance to star as a victim in a snuff film—a motion picture genre that depicts the actual murder of a person or people without the aid of special effects. He quickly realizes that he is worthless to his family alive. On the contrary, if he accepts the offer then his family will be paid a sum of US$50,000. After accepting the advance, he is granted a week's time to be with his family before fulfilling the terms of the agreement. The Brave features several haunting scenes which force the viewers to reflect on their own lives. The real beauty of the film lies in the fact that the violence is only implicit; those on the lookout for any excesses of sex or violence are likely to be disappointed. 

Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando in The Brave, Directed By Johnny Depp
Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp in the Brave 
The Brave highlights in the most poignant manner the perpetual plight of the American natives residing in the US, something that Marlon Brando vociferously raised his voice against at several junctures during his career (he even refused to accept the Best Actor Oscar for his role in The Godfather in protest). The movie features just one scene between Brando and Depp, but that scene is magical in so many regards. First, Brando's speech on life, death and sacrifice is hauntingly mesmerizing. Second, Depp's facial expressions remind the viewer of the Brando of old. Third, it is one of Brando's final few screen presences... every second of his screen-time is worth cherishing. Fourth, the fact that the two characters are eternally connected despite having very little in common elevates the scene to indescribable heights.

Johnny Depp as Raphael in The Brave, with his daughter, living the shantytown, Directed By Johnny Depp
A Still from The Brave
The German legend of Faust, which speaks of a man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge, has been the subject of three connected literary works. The first is a play “The Tragical History of Dr Faustus” written by Christopher Marlowe in the 16th century. The second is a two-part tragic play “Faust” written in the early 19th century by German literary genius Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The third is a 20th century novel “Doktor Faustus” by Nobel Prize winning German novelist Thomas Mann. These literary works have served as the source of inspiration for several filmmakers who have been fascinated by the legend of Faust. Some of the most notable works that come to mind are legendary German filmmaker F. W. Murnau’s silent film Faust (1926), Richard Burton’s Doctor Faustus (1967), and Russian filmmaker Aleksandr Sokurov’s Golden Lion winning film Faust (2011). 

Johnny Depp as Raphael in The Brave, Directed by Johnny Depp, Shantytown, Indian American dilapidated living style
Johnny Depp as Raphael in The Brave
Johnny Depp's The Brave pales in comparison to the aforementioned great works of cinema, but the movie's improvisation on Dr. Faustus is worth appreciating: here the protagonist is willing to give away his life (as oppose to his soul) for a gain that's purely pecuniary in nature (as oppose to knowledge). It pretty much sums up the modern society's preference for money over knowledge. This modern-day materialism is most evident in an early scene from the movie wherein Depp’s character can be seen looking wistfully at the newly constructed houses from inside the bus. Another facet that makes the movie important and appealing is that despite being a Hollywood product, it has a strong indie feel associated with it. Needless to say, the credit for which should go to the Depp brothers. 

Johnny Depp as Raphael in The Brave, shares a moment with his son, Directed by the Brave
A Still from The Brave
Overall, The Brave serves to be an absorbing work of cinema for the intelligent audience. The casual and the uninitiated viewers may find them in an alien territory and are liable to nitpick, but the patient viewer will be thoroughly rewarded. The movie despite some flaws in direction and editing has enough to keep the thinking viewer engaged at different levels. The arresting performances from Brando and Depp lift the movie above mediocrity despite its weak direction and average performances from the support cast. Another strong point of the movie is Iggy Pop's poignant music. The Brave is recommended to all those who appreciate thought-provoking cinema and also to those on the lookout for something different to break their routine of watching banal, mindless cinema. 

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  


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