Only the Brave

only-the-brave-rev Only the Brave  (2017)    Columbia/Action-Drama    RT: 133 minutes    Rated PG-13 (thematic content, some sexual references, language, drug material)    Director: Joseph Kosinski    Screenplay: Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer    Music: Joseph Trapanese    Cinematography: Claudio Miranda    Release date: October 20, 2017 (US)    Cast: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly, Andie MacDowell, Natalie Hall, Geoff Stults, Alex Russell, Thad Luckinbill, Ben Hardy, Scott Haze.

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 Firefighters are true heroes. It takes a lot of courage to run towards something other people run away from. They put their lives on the line on a daily basis so that others may live. Some, like the Granite Mountain Hotshots, even pay the ultimate price. To them, I say thank you and God bless. Thank you also to Hollywood for paying tribute to these courageous men with Only the Brave, the best movie about firefighters since Backdraft. Directed by Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy), it recounts the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the elite crew who battled the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013. It’s a more than fitting tribute to the nineteen men who died in the Arizona wildfire.

 Only the Brave mainly focuses on Brendan McDonough (Teller, Whiplash), a drug addict and petty criminal looking to turn his life around after finding out an ex-girlfriend (Hall) is having his baby. He signs on with a crew of level-2 firefighters led by Eric Marsh (Brolin, Sicario) who decides to take a chance on a guy nobody else wants on the crew. The first part of Only the Brave consists of Brendan proving himself worthy and the crew trying to become “Hotshots”, the ones that fight wildfires on the front line. Once they achieve that, the movie follows then through their first year right up to the fateful Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013.

 only the braveThis, of course, is an overview of Only the Brave. It has its share of personal drama and conflict. Brendan manages to pull himself together well enough to convince his ex to allow him a relationship with his daughter. This comes with its own set of problems; namely, his career causing him to be the absent father he swore he’d never be. Marsh is a gruff, stubborn sort who nearly derails his crew’s efforts to be certified when he plays maverick during their evaluation, one that his supervisor Duane (Bridges, Hell or High Water) went through hell and high water to get for them, and attempts a risky maneuver that could just as easily make the fire worse. He also has problems on the homefront with his wife Amanda (Connelly, A Beautiful Mind) complaining that his job takes up too much of his time. She also constantly worries that each time he leaves for work will be the last time she sees him alive.

 Only the Brave is a compelling if cliched drama that takes what could have been another movie about a real-life tragedy and shapes it into.... well, it doesn’t really shape it into anything other than what it is. It’s a gripping tale about a group of real-life heroes and the path they took to heroism. In essence, Only the Brave is an origin story. It’s visually impressive and genuinely exciting with some of the best fire sequences I’ve seen since Backdraft. There’s a recurring shot of a flaming running bear that’s just awesome. Thankfully, Kosinski doesn’t overdo it with the special effects; they never overwhelm the story or characters.

 The acting is quite good. I owe Teller an apology. Early on in his career, I assumed he was just another generic young actor who specialized in playing d-bags in movies like Project X, 21 & Over and That Awkward Moment. He was very good in The Spectacular Now but the one that did it for me was Whiplash. He’s turned in a steady stream of strong performances since then including Only the Brave. He’s believable as the screw-up trying like hell to shed that label. I’m sorry, Miles, it seems I misjudged you. Brolin is also good as the crew leader who believes in Brendan for reasons that may be more personal than he lets on. Connelly is terrific as his supportive, strong-willed wife. Bridges is amazing as Marsh’s supervisor. He’s one of those actors that get better with age. He has this one scene where he reacts to bad news he just heard over the phone. It’s a powerful moment in a movie that holds back a bit on emotionalism.

 For all its good points, Only the Brave doesn’t have as strong an emotional impact as one would hope. It is moving in parts but the overall effect is less than it should be. It’s still a good movie though. Even though it runs long (133 minutes), it held my interest throughout. Also, it focuses so closely on Marsh, Brendan and Amanda that other characters get short-shifted. We don’t get to know a whole lot about the other crew members except for MacKenzie (Kitsch, Lone Survivor) who starts out as Brendan’s chief foe before becoming his best friend. Even so, I came to care about the characters. I really like Only the Brave. Not only is it a solidly entertaining movie, it’s a wonderful tribute to the brave men and women on the job. Movies like Only the Brave show much we truly appreciate them. Once again, thank you for your service and God bless all of you. 

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