Thursday 6 August 2020

Movie Review: Only The Brave (2017)

A drama and tragedy based on real events, Only The Brave captures the courage of firefighters willing to risk their lives on the frontlines of natural disasters.

In Prescott, Arizona, Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) is the supervisor for local wildfire Rescue Crew 7. He believes his unit is good enough to earn a "Hot Shot" designation, which would allow front-line deployment, although it is uncommon for a municipal force to achieve the distinction. Eric is married to horse veterinarian Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), and they are dealing with stress related to his frequent absence and her desire to start a family.

Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) joins Crew 7 as a rookie, determined to clean up his life after his ex-girlfriend gives birth to a baby girl. With the help of his friend and mentor Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges), Eric finally proves his unit's ability and Crew 7 becomes the Granite Mountain Hot Shots. As Brendan learns what it takes to fight dangerous fires, plenty of challenges await, including an unexpectedly dangerous fire near Yarnell.

Building up to a sorrowful loss, Only The Brave sets out to portray the quiet valour of men (in this unit they are all men) who march towards raging fires and the sacrifices of their long-suffering spouses. Director Joseph Kosinski treats his subjects with respect by remaining grounded. From the superintendent Marsh to the rookie McDonough, Rescue Crew 7 consists of proud, dedicated but far from perfect guys. Battling old demons including addictions, absentee fathers and squandered opportunities, the men can be mean, rude, and experts at placing the rigours of the job ahead of family responsibilities.

The script by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer avoids cheap acts of heroism in favour of highlighting discipline, work ethic, long hours, and the drive to overcome exhaustion. The men are rewarded with an invaluable sense of camaraderie built on banter, and in the middle of nowhere, moments of spectacular natural beauty.

Kosinski deploys to the forest fire front lines sparingly, preferring to focus on people instead of action. At 133 minutes, with limited character evolution and pretty basic personal and familial conflicts, the film is quite a bit longer than it needs to be. The visual effects featuring ravenous fires devouring landscapes do provide effective jolts of dangerous energy.

The cast resides in dour manly territory, where scowls often replace conversation. Josh Brolin is suitably stone-faced, his features forged by the heat of countless blazes, his pride in his men equally fiery. Miles Teller accepts a more subdued role, the behavioural dynamics of a fire crew seen through his rookie eyes. Jeff Bridges is given relatively little to do. As the one woman given prominence, Jennifer Connelly represents wives carving out some definition of marriage in the absence of husbands but with the everpresent spectre of death.

An encounter with a snake forever alters the trajectory of McDonough's life. After earning his rightful place as a member of the Hot Shots, he will learn about the various forms of bravery necessary to carry on.


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