First things first, my opinion here doesn’t disrespect those who give, or indeed gave, their lives for others but Only The Brave took me a while to embed into because although it’s based on real events, it instigated an ‘us and them’ mentality between groups of men, even though they’re all doing the same job, and that tired trope felt a bit dull. Obviously, the style is for dramatic effect but because this is a really unique story, and a celebration of life over death, I was frustrated by director Joseph Kosinski’s (best known for this work on the futurist Oblivion and also the enjoyable Tron Legacy) approach with over-long scenes entwined by macho platitude.
Only The Brave is based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite team of fire fighters who fought the 2013 Yarnell Hill wildfire in Arizona. We learn of a dedicated team, like endless others across the USA, who risk their lives after being trained to take to take on gigantic forest fires that can devastate wildlife, landscapes and communities in the right weather conditions.
At the start of the film, the movie sets us up with Jennifer Connolly and Josh Brolin’s sensual relationship, backing up that environment where everyone is passionate and drowned in dramatic tone. We’re gradually presented with each person but as we’re dealing with a large group, it’s difficult to pick out individual performances but this tribute is about the ensemble for the right, honourable reasons. Saying that though, it’s Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges and Miles Teller’s performances that dominated and take centre stage.
After Only The Brave clumsily builds the side you’re rooting for, the classic hard-working man figure and shows us someone who’s hunting for redemption, we’re thrown into a military-type environment that could easily be an American war film with all the cheesy hints of Michael Bay’s target market. However, this is a story about friendships, about commitment to the cause and very sadly being in the wrong place at the wrong time, even if all the intentions were positive.
The positives though include the truly excellent Miles Teller, as Brendan McDonough, who’s the fullest character and a man with a lot to prove. He’s helped by his band of brothers, and definitely Brolin’s Eric Marsh, to get him where he wants to be. The fire scenes are unreservedly believable and then Only The Brave really hits home in the final third, with an ending that wrenches at the reality of the situation and is intelligently played out, full of genuine human emotion. While the film might not be the most fulfilling all the way through, its message of celebrating the life you have now and those who fight for it is duly and significantly clear.