Nico’s Movie Review: ‘Only The Brave’ Is A Tragic, Unexpected Tale
At first blush, a movie like Only The Brave seems to come around every year or so; a movie that aims to honor those who risk their lives to make life for everyone else as normal and mundane as possible.
While that's not an inaccurate summation of this movie, I feel like lumping it into that category is doing it a disservice. Only The Brave takes a subject matter than can often become corny and overly preachy, and works masterfully to create a film that is truly moving, and likely to impress even folks who turn their noses up at movies like, say, American Sniper.
This film is based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a wildland firefighting crew based out of Prescott, Arizona. Even though the movie is based on real events, I don't want to go into too much detail about their history, as it might lessen the emotional impact this film will have on you if you are unaware of their story.
The film features a veteran cast, led by Josh Brolin as Eric Marsh, the Superintendent of the fire crew, who runs a quasi-military operation in order to keep his firefighters in the right shape to stop these powerful forces of nature that threaten to destroy cities. Other standouts include Jennifer Connelly as Marsh's wife Amanda, Jeff Bridges as gruff ex-fire chief Duane Steinbrink, and Miles Teller as Brendan "Donut" McDonough.
All of the actors in this film give a wonderful performance, and that is key to why this is a good movie; as the film progresses, we can get into the minds of the characters and feel their struggles, be in the Marsh's martial strain due to Eric's commitment to his work, or McDonough as he tries to get over his addictions and become a better father to his newborn daughter.
Where I think Only The Brave most succeeds, though, is that it is able to create such an emotionally powerful narrative without resorting to cheap writing techniques. At no point does the movie have to ram down our throats that "THESE MEN ARE HEROES" because we can plainly see that! At no point do these hotshots save a dog from a burning orphanage, or anything ham-fisted like that.
Despite the film's handling of the subject matter with an unexpected class, I do feel, however, that there are points where the film is entirely expected on a smaller scale. For example, the first time I saw Teller's character smoking dope and vegging out on the couch watching The Price Is Right, I could practically see a flashing sign that said "this character will redeem himself by becoming a firefighter".
There were a few moments like this, making the early parts of the film feel a bit paint by the numbers, but it doesn't detract significantly.
As well, once Only The Brave hits roughly the halfway point of its over 2 hour running time, it seems to lose direction. There are several scenes which don't seem to do anything but develop the characters, which is fine, but it does seem to be a bit disconnected from the overall plot.
By the time the climax approaches, however, the film gets back on track, ramping up to one of the most moving, tragic, and emotionally wrecking conclusions I've ever seen in cinema. If you know the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, you know how this film ends, but that doesn't make it any less heartwrenching. I'm not ashamed to admit tears were shed by yours truly.
Overall, Only The Brave overcomes a few storytelling hurdles to create one of the most powerful, yet understated films that has come out in recent memory. It honors some of the most underappreciated heroes that serve every day in our country, and it does it with tact and heart.
Definitely go see Only The Brave; you can see the trailer below.