Movie Review: Only the Brave
By: James Fleckenstein
The “based on a true story” type drama reigns supreme in big budget Hollywood film, next only to superhero film. But making a true story film is an uphill battle, as both storytelling and accuracy seem to clash at some of the worst times. Yet Only the Brave manages to play its accuracy to its advantage, allowing reality to tell a story much more impactful than most fictionalized accounts.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski, known for Tron: Legacy (2010) and Oblivion (2013), the film presents the origin and achievements of the Granite Mountain hot-shots, a real-life forest-fire fighting group based out of Arizona. But the film is not all daring firefighting action. Most of the film is juxtaposed by the personal lives of Supervisor Marsh (Josh Brolin), and a drug addict turned recruit “Doughnut” McDonough (Miles Teller). Emotions weigh on the characters after each major fire, as they must balance being an emergency responder with being there for their family. Josh Brolin’s performance as a man with high ideals and concern for how things are done comes off as extremely genuine and Jennifer Connelly’s performance as Amanda Marsh help tether the emotional conflict, showing what these firefighters are truly fighting for. Teller’s performance is also noteworthy, as he transitions from a disappointing and almost annoying character to a caring family man with purpose. These personal insights only strengthen the scenes of firefighting, as a sense of consequence is added to the dangers created by these fires.
As for the action in the film, the special effects are surprisingly real. The landscapes are breathtaking, which only furthers the importance of filming on location. A great importance is placed on framing, as the director seems to highlight the very line between the destructive fire, and beautiful vistas. The film chooses not just to showcase the climactic Yarnell Hill forest fire, but many other successful fires the team vanquished throughout their careers. The dialog is superb, with much the banter being both realistic and entertaining. Many of the other eighteen firefighters have smaller character arcs compared to the two main stars, but their actions and home lives seem genuine and interesting.
Only the Brave still has its faults. Some of the plot falls into the standard disaster movie trappings of protagonist who argues a point that is ultimately ignored by their superior, making the disaster worse. Much of the humor is crude, so depending on one’s tolerance the movie could possibly come off as childish. These negatives come more as an afterthought than a detractor, as they have little importance towards the film and its subject. Intense visual action paired with challenging personal conflict make Only the Brave a powerhouse of emotion, a film made for the big screen that is not afraid to show some real life emotion.