“Only the Brave” Movie Review

I begin this review with a quote by former Vice President Joe Biden: “All men were created equal. But then a few became firefighters.” That pretty much sums it all up. This biographical drama was released on October 20th, 2017, only grossing $6 million on a $38 million budget in its opening weekend. Despite that, it has received great reviews from critics. Based largely from a GQ article, the film went through a massive shift late in production. Lionsgate all of a sudden dropped their distribution deal and the release date of late September went up in the air. Soon after, Sony and Columbia Pictures picked it up to be released a full month later and changed the title from Granite Mountain to Only the Brave. Co-written by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, the true story follows a group of frontline firefighters known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Hotshots are a tight-knit group that literally fight fire with fire, holding the line against massive brush fires in various places around the country. This movie is a bit of a dramatization of the members of that squad, examining their own personal lives and how it interconnects with their professional ones. In the last few years, certain filmmakers have given us dramas based on real-life events or tragedies. Peter Berg did that twice last year with Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day which, while not the best ever made by any stretch, were at least very respectful to their subjects. David Gordon Green did that this year with his drama Stronger, and now director Joseph Kosinski gives us Only the Brave. Now his first feature Tron: Legacy is… not a movie I adore. And I haven’t seen his second film Oblivion, but I’m not particularly excited to see it from the trailers and clips I’ve watched. Yet I was very curious to see what he would be able to accomplish in the jump from sci-fi to true-story drama. And I gotta say, he does a pretty nice transition. It could have been so easy to make these Hotshots faceless heroes without any flaws or troubles whatsoever. Biopics are guilty of doing this a lot of times, and it seems like this one might be at first. But Kosinski and his screenwriters understand that each of these people were real human beings with real problems. Relationships, children, money, bad habits, etc. plague these men’s personal lives while they’re working to keep acres of forest safe. Obviously, some are better sketched out than others, but the film never shies away from finding them in their lowest lows. Josh Brolin leads the pack as the Superintendent Eric Marsh and is excellent. His traditional gruff nature and older wisdom is a stark contrast to the cockiness of the men under his command. One scene involves him sharing a dream he had of a bear on fire, saying, “It was the most beautiful and terrible thing I had ever seen in my life.” He’s surrounded by a surprising amount of talent. Particularly standing out from the crowd is Miles Teller as the new recruit. A burnt-out drug addict with a baby on the way, we get to see his redemption in a very convincing way through his experience with these men. James Badger Dale and Taylor Kitsch do great work as Marsh’s right-hand man and wild boy, respectively, while Jennifer Connelly is excellent as Marsh’s wife. She provides an interesting dynamic away from the character’s professional life and at one point berates him for choosing work over her. She can seem kind of bitchy, but she still emits a likability and commitment. Jeff Bridges plays a more modernized version of the character he plays. Like if his character from Hell or High Water shaved his mustache, adopted a cell phone and became a fireman instead of a Texas Ranger. The film is also technically brilliant. When the Hotshots are sent out on a job, there is some noticeable CGI to create massive brush fires. But it also blends seamlessly with real, practical fires, creating a very controlled yet sooty atmosphere. Kosinski excelled at this in Tron: Legacy (perhaps more than anything else in the movie), though I’m curious how it would have played out differently with an R-rating. But the way that Claudio Miranda frames each scene does a great job of illustrating the extreme risks these men take every day. It was almost surreal. In fact, it was kind of exhausting. Joseph Trapanese composes the musical score, and a minimalist one at that. Most of it is centered around synthesized orchestras, and really stays in the background most of the time. But where it’s supposed to hit, it hits with an emotional undercurrent. Meanwhile, country singer Dierks Bentley wrote an original song called “Hold the Light,” which plays out during a montage just before the end credits. It managed to bring back the fact that this really happened and these 20 men were real people. I won’t tell you how it ends, but it was rather powerful. Though admittedly, it did feel heavy-handed and a little bit cheesy. Just a little bit. With amazing visuals and fantastic direction by a first-timer for the genre, Only the Brave is a humane celebration of blue-collared heroism. This is exactly the kind of movie America needs right now. One that shows normal people committing acts of true bravery and banding with those around them, even if they’re hostile.

Related image

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s