Director: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller & Jeff Bridges
Rating: 12 Duration: 129 minutes Release date: 12 March (UK)
As far as true-life stories go, Only the Brave is a remarkable one. The story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite crew who tackle wildfires across America, is the sort of enthusiastic chest thumper that you would associate with Peter Berg. Berg, who directed the trilogy of heroic tales Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day is surprisingly absent from the directors’ chair and instead we have Tron: Legacy’s Joseph Kosinski in charge. After directing the Tron sequel and the Tom Cruise starring Oblivion, Kosinski has taken a side step with a more grounded film, and his efforts here are significantly different from his previous films.
With Kosinski’s keen eye for a wide shot of the Arizona landscape and his clear ability to portray the type of camaraderie needed for this type of film, he proves to be the ideal choice here. Coming across as mix between Aliens and Top Gun, the boisterous levels are turned up to 11 as Kosinski aims to make the audience feel like they are bonding with the crew and thus making the films impact even more heartfelt.
The story, for those unfamiliar, regards an elite crew of fire fighters known as Hotshots. It’s their job to tackle wildfires before they become uncontrollable and move onto towns and cities and result in more casualties. They have little in the way of tools and must do most of the work by hand with little outside help. It’s a cruel job that involves long hours and carries a considerable risk. For those that have families the time they get to spend with them is limited and can be put a great amount of stress on relationships. In short, it’s a bitch of a job, but one that carries high rewards and a deep sense of accomplishment. Truly, anyone who does this kind of job is a hero. The Granite Mountain Hotshots are the focus of the film and the Yarnell Hill fire is what propels events here.
Back in 2013 a wildfire started suddenly after a lightning strike and the fire escalated quickly threatening the nearby town of Yarnell, Arizona. Only the Brave focuses on the crew who went from being a Type 2 team to their promotion to Hotshots. Which is a genuine qualification and not just a cool name. Their journey, like the men we get to know, is tough and the dangers they face along the way are exhibited in a skilled manner. Again, much like the men who must perform this job on daily basis during wildfire season.
Josh Brolin’s Eric Marsh leads the Hotshots and carries much of the films emotional weight. His relationship with his wife, played by Jennifer Connelly, forms a sub-plot to the film as the pair must navigate their private lives while dealing with the real threat that when Eric leaves for work in the morning, that he may not be coming home. While Connelly’s job as a horse carer is simple in comparison, she is not given much to do apart from be the go-home wife who must pick up the pieces of her relationship with Brolin’s quiet alpha male. His calm demeanour is scored by a hot-headed nature that rears itself in several moments throughout the film, most notably when his crew are being evaluated as they seek to become Hotshots. Brolin helps to steer the film in a reliable manner and his steady method helps the films weaker moments.
Miles Teller carves out a sympathetic redemption story as Brendan McDonough, affectionately known as “donut” to his colleagues. His former dope addict has been kicked out of his mother’s house, got a young girl pregnant, is banned from seeing his child and has just done time in prison. Despite all this, Brolin’s superintendent takes a risk on him, seeing something that no one else does and gives him a job. The rest of the crew, Taylor Kitsch in particular, take some offence to this making “donut’s” journey even harder. What follows may be predictable and somewhat trite, but even when Only the Brave threatens to become obvious, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the tale of these young men.
The only shame here is that apart from Kitsch and James Badge Dale’s Jesse, we don’t get to know the other members of the crew as much as we would have liked. Only the Brave may not linger very long on the supporting cast either, with the Hotshot’s wives and family reduced to side notes who do little other than look worried while their husbands attend the next fire.
Despite a few setbacks, namely some decidedly cheesy moments and the occasional bit of flag waving patriotism, Only the Brave is a wonderfully shot and smartly directed film that treats a real life story with delicacy and doesn’t make a melodrama out of such an heroic story.