Movie Review: ‘Only the Brave’
Director: Jospeh Kosinski
Cast: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges, James, Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Andie McDowell
Plot: Eric Marsh heads up a team of wilderness fire fighters who recruits a recovering drug addict to give him a second chance. They work to balance their lives with their highly dangerous job.
Review: There’s this rather grim trend in the film industry at the moment of rushing out films based on real life tragedies. Four years ago almost all members of a fire fighting crew lost their lives battling the Yarnell Hill fires. Whilst Only the Brave is a far, far less tacky endeavour than the schlock Peter Berg puts out it does cause one to question the motives behind some of these releases.
Soapboxing aside, what we have here is a story focused on lives of those who died in the blaze when the fire moved so quickly they couldn’t reach the safe zone in time. There is plenty of time given to setting up who the characters are and what’s important in their lives, which leads to the film’s greatest strengths and weaknesses.
The first act shuffles us awkwardly between Marsh (Brolin), the leader of the squad who is working to get them fully qualified and respected by their peers and Brendan McDonough (Teller) who is addicted to meth and learning that he’s going to become a father. The narrative flow of these early scenes is as smooth as a pile of gravel with sudden jumps in time that are very poorly communicated. Things level out once McDonough joins up with the team and we settle into a routine of the squad clearing land for wildfires and interacting with their families.
This second act is important in that it helps us connect with the characters and establishes the risks of the job, and it features strong performances from the cast, but it’s so long that it drags the film to almost a complete stop. A major part of Eric and Amanda’s (Connelly) story only gets dropped late in the piece at a time when it’s not going to impact on the film. We also get a steady stream of firefighting terminology and techniques that were downright confounding at times. Perhaps this is a regional thing and they’re common parlance in the US, but we didn’t know what ‘hot shots’ and ‘dousers’ were and the film wasn’t willing to divulge that information.
When the third act rolls around we get into the real event that inspired the film. The film-makers do successfully deliver the emotional weight and the danger of the situation. CGI and practical effects are combined to create a truly terrifying look at the work emergency workers do to protect populations and the inevitable loss of life is a real gut punch. The movie makes up a lot of lost ground in the final 20 minutes.
Although the middle of the film drastically sags and your enjoyment in getting to know the characters will be affected by your tolerance of frat-boy attitudes the movie will leave a lasting impact by the time the credits roll.
Rating: SEVEN out of TEN