UK Release Date: 10th November 2017
Runtime: 133 minutes
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writer: Ken Nolan, Eric Warren Singer
Starring: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Jeff Bridges, Andie MacDowell, Ben Hardy
Synopsis: A team of elite firefighters work to be recognised for their talents and then are faced with an out of control wildfire they must tackle before it spreads to populated areas.
The ripped from the headlines tale of American heroism has become a big part of Hollywood in recent years, with director Peter Berg almost single-handedly defining the genre through Mark Wahlberg-starring blockbusters like Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day. The latest movie to take up the true life mantle is Only the Brave, adapted from a GQ article and based on the real events of the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013. It’s an honourable film that serves as an affectionate tribute to its subjects, but is a disappointment in its rather straightforward, bloated big screen storytelling.
Director Joseph Kosinski is unafraid to take his time in allowing the story to play out, spending plenty of time with each of the central figures. Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) is the Superintendent of a team of firefighters working hard with his local fire chief (Jeff Bridges) to be officially recognised as an elite ‘hotshot’ unit. He takes a risk on a hotheaded young recruit (Miles Teller), which draws the ire of fellow firefighter Chris (Taylor Kitsch), who nicknames the newbie Donut and fears he may scupper their chances of achieving hotshot status.
The major misstep of Only the Brave is that it almost entirely fails to transform its characters into people the audience actually cares for. Anyone who, like me, goes in without knowing the story behind the Granite Mountain Hotshots is unlikely to grasp the gravity of the bond between these men. It’s only Brolin and Teller who are explored in any sort of depth, but the film wanders off at regular intervals in order to try to deepen the other men, without ever delving into them in any detail.
The most interesting corners of the story focus on Brolin and his troubled relationship with his long-suffering wife, brilliantly played by Jennifer Connelly, who struggles with playing second fiddle to the fires he is often forced to hop out of bed to fight. Brolin’s grizzled charisma is perfect for the part and is a stark contrast to Jeff Bridges, who turns up every so often in order to mumble a few lines of dialogue underneath a Stetson hat.
Only the Brave is all geared towards its final act, which sees Brolin’s team of firefighters tackling an out of control blaze in Arizona, leading to a horrific event. Unfortunately, this centrepiece does not arrive until well over 90 minutes into the movie, after a lengthy and rather tedious period of macho posturing and slow-motion exposition. Kosinski’s patience and clear love for the characters is never expressed in a way with which the audience can get on board. The most poignant moment the film conjures is the final montage, which shows us the real-life men behind the story and really hammers home their sacrifice in a way the movie itself never does.
It seems a shame to criticise a film so well-intentioned and tender, but it simply doesn’t work as a piece of narrative cinema. Kosinski lacks the focus that could have condensed the events into a tense and affecting thriller and, when the spectacle arrives, it is rendered with cheap-looking CGI and frenetic pacing that’s entirely at odds with everything that has come before. This might be a film with its heart in the right place, but that’s about the only thing that can be said for it.
Pop or Poop?
There’s no doubt that the real people behind the story are remarkable, but Only the Brave is a rather ordinary film. The story overstays its welcome with a bloated running time that ensures the audience has checked out long before the crux of the narrative. Strong performances are not enough to paper over the cracks of a shaky script and some dodgy CGI spectacle.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.