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Only the Brave (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 16, 2020

Only the Brave


Starring Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Andie MacDowell, Scott Haze, Alex Russell, Ben Hardy, Rachel Singer, Natalie Hall, Geoff Stults, Jake Picking, Thad Luckinbill, Scott Foxx, Dylan Kenin, Ryan Busch, Kenny Miller, Josh Hopkins, Pell James and Forrest Fyre.

Screenplay by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski.

Distributed by Columbia Pictures. 134 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Only the Brave is a visually stunning film, one that celebrates some very brave men who put their lives on the line to keep other people safe. The story of an actual Arizona fire company which specializes fighting massive runaway brush fires, it is particularly timely at this moment as California is being ravaged by wildfires. The movie is beautiful, sometimes very exciting, occasionally quite sad, and also often just a little bit predictable and formulaic.

Frankly, Only the Brave takes a tragic real-life event and turns it into a soap opera for dudes.

Mind you, a stunningly well-acted soap opera, as you might imagine with cast-members like Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly and Jeff Bridges.

Only the Brave has a pretty set storyline rhythm – firemen prepare for upcoming emergencies, firemen party and goof off amongst themselves to blow off a little steam, firemen deal with family and relationship problems at home, firemen fight off a dangerous inferno, the local small town shows its appreciation to the firemen. Rinse and repeat.

Part of the problem is that there are 20 of these firemen – not to mention all the guys and gals we meet from the town and neighboring companies – and even at a slightly padded two-and-a-quarter hours, very few of these firemen are given enough time on screen or enough to do in order to develop their characters.

Most of them are just types: the goofball, the commitment-phobe, the redneck, the jock, the… well, I can’t even remember what other stereotypes were here, they were all so generic. They all drink very heavily and act like total dude-bros. They are all big fish in a small pond – to the point that women throw themselves at them and complete strangers say, “You guys are heroes,” without urging or context. Even Jeff Bridges’ character comes off as a pretty one-dimensional, which is shocking, because it’s nearly impossible for Bridges to come off as dull on camera. Yet here, he kind of does.

And did I mention that the town mayor was played by an actor named Forrest Fyre?

By the time we reach the inevitable life-threatening ending, we wish that we had gotten to know these guys a little better so that we would be more invested in their fates.

Only three actors are given deep, fully-formed characters – Brolin as the tough-as-nails chief of the company, Connelly as his just-as-tough wife, a woman who long ago realized she’d have to survive on her own because her husband was married to the job and going to be gone for days at a time, and Miles Teller as the former junkie trying to find salvation and win back his ex and his unknown daughter by going straight.

Though the personal relationships of the firefighters get even more play than the actual firefighting, it is only when these guys are on the job that the film truly comes alive. The film opens with an arresting shot of a bear on fire bolting out of the woods (a shot done with CGI, thankfully) and the flames make a seductive and overwhelming villain throughout the film. Scenes of mountain forests ablaze, sparks floating down everywhere, and walls of flame advancing relentlessly, have the hellish immediacy that make the film truly memorable.

These men were truly heroes, and while it is obvious that Only the Brave recognizes that fact, it does not sell the point quite well enough. Honestly, they deserved a better film to memorialize them.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: October 20, 2017.

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