Daniel Duran’s Bravetown is a textbook example of substance-over-style success: Aside from a showy opening (a tracking shot that snakes through a club, cribbing freely from Carlito’s Way, Boogie Nights, etc.), the movie satisfies mainly due to its affecting ensemble and considerable emotional intelligence.
Living in New York with his bottle-reliant mother (Maria Bello, in a cameo), seventeen-year-old Josh (Lucas Till) carves out some meaning for himself as an on-the-rise DJ. But when an episode with a pill yields an overdose — it’s clear the drug is suspicious when the guy offering it dangles it in front of the camera — Josh is mandated to travel west and reside with the father (Tom Everett Scott) who left him at birth.
Josh’s new town (Winnipeg standing in for North Dakota) appears antithetical to his interests: It’s lined with American flags, recruiting centers, and stories of sons following their fathers into the military. But Josh discovers that he and his music can have a liberating impact here, too: He reignites the school’s stagnant dance team (mascot: Patriots) and builds uplifting connections with shell-shocked locals, from his court-ordered, soccer-fiend counselor (Josh Duhamel) to the depressed mother (Laura Dern) of a fallen soldier.
Anchoring this schmaltzy scenario is Till, whose bottled-up exterior — deep voice, clenched expressions, constant headphone usage — nicely articulates Josh’s psychological predicament. (When Till finally cracks a smile, he resembles Good Will Hunting–era Matt Damon.)
Just as crucial is the discipline of Oscar Orlando Torres’s script: It’s to Torres’s endless credit that the obligatory blowup between angry teenager and absent father never occurs. They share little dialogue, making the quiet bond they do develop sneakily poignant and firmly grounded.