Genre: Action and Adventure, Drama
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly
Release Date: October 20th, 2017
There’s an early sequence in the drama Only The Brave that sets the stage for the film. Local fire chief Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) leads his crew — and potential members of his crew — to the top of a mountain and looks at the surrounding woods. It’s a beautiful sight to behold. Marsh turns to his team and tells them to look at the forest in a different way. He asks them to look at it as fuel.
If a fire starts, it could use all the woods to quickly build into an enormous wildfire. That’s what the chief asks them to understand.
The new film tells the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a crew of firefighters who are charged with slowing down and suffocating large-scale fires. Based in Arizona, this team had to face off against overwhelming fires that consume communities and forests alike. Firehoses won’t cut it. The crews need to understand the speed and direction of a fire in order to cut off its supply of fuel.
Marsh is a stoic leader and one who has earned the respect of his men. When potential recruit Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) asks for an interview, the crew is trepidatious — McDonough is known as a directionless drug user — but Marsh gives him a chance. McDonough says he wants to turn his life around (he recently became a father) and Marsh gives him the opportunity. It’s through McDonough’s fresh and earnest eyes that we watch this crew grow and fight for the opportunity to become hotshots.
These characters could’ve been lost in a traditional story but the writers, who adapted this film from the GQ article No Exit by Sean Flynn, keep their focus on these individuals. Marsh, for instance, never becomes a flawless leader bringing his team into battle. He’s stubborn and frustrating but he’s also someone his crew admires enough to follow.
Jennifer Connelly co-stars as his wife and she’s a vital character here as well, never settling into stereotypical role of a worried spouse. Her connection with Marsh brings their personal story to life, creating a depth oftentimes missing from films like this. She helps care for horses and at the same time her husband has a career, she’s building her own.
The writing duo of Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer keep that relationship as a key one here, showing both the sacrifices the firefighters make on the job and the sacrifices their loved ones make as well.
Relationships like this are key to providing the emotional weight to the story but they are used to build these characters as unique individuals, rather than simply as props to cause us to care. In fact, the film oftentimes steers away from emotionally manipulative moments, letting viewers simply observe their relationships firsthand.
Director Joseph Kosinski stages a few strong set pieces here but the film never becomes an action film. This is a movie about characters first and foremost. Even with a large cast, there are still great moments for many of the individual stars to shine. Teller delivers a subtle performance as the troubled McDonough and his worthy performance showcases the character’s personal changes in a real believable way. Taylor Kitsch and Jeff Bridges also deliver worthy smaller performances here, showcasing the fraternal relationships these characters feel for each other.
It’s because of this brotherhood and the personal connections established between so many of these characters that Only the Brave stands out as a movie more interested in storytelling than simply in special effects.
Review by: John Hanlon