Only the Brave Review: A Familiar Portrait of Heroism

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You don’t need a full, two-hour plus film for the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots to shake you. But when it comes time for said shaking, Joseph Kosinski’s Only the Brave does an admirable job making you feel exactly what it wants you to feel. The film that comes before it, however, falls into the expansive tier of cinema of unremarkable films about some remarkable people.

In 2013, Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin playing into his typecast) leads a group of secondary fire fighters in the small Arizona town of Prescott, which is surrounded by dry brush and thus incredibly prone to leveling wildfires. He’s working with Duane Steinbrick (Jeff Bridges also playing into his typecast, though with a mountain full of earnest charm) to establish the team as the first independent fire brigade to be recognized by the municipality in the country. Meanwhile, Brendon McDonough (Miles Teller) is getting high in his basement when he finds out he has a baby on the way, and not one he was trying for. So he picks himself up and walks through Eric’s door, looking for a job.

Most of the film is the Granite Mountain Hotshots merely living. They frequent bars, pull pranks, and figure out their family lives between fires. It’s cliche, but it also kind of works. Most of the team is drawn too thinly to care about, but here Taylor Kitsch finally seems ready to remind us how he made Tim Riggins so gosh darn engaging (and yes, dreamy) with his character, Chris MacKenzie. The script also has some welcome surprises, slowly giving out all the information we need to richen the characters, particularly Eric and his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly). Their relationship, and how Brendon’s entry in their lives changes that, is relayed in a manner that appropriately delves into the complexities of life and accepting oneself. But of course, these are mere morsels in a meal that, while effective, is mostly pretty generic.

Only the Brave‘s chief goal is to pay tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives in a fire that just proved too unwieldy for anyone to put out. At that it succeeds, but the larger whole does little to elevate itself beyond an honest, simple portrait of heroism. The film as a whole works, but just barely, with too many scenes of characters bleeding into caricature (Eric monologues to the far away flames no less than five times throughout). With cliches abound, Kosinski doesn’t appear interested in doing anything more than what’s been done before with a group of heroes who haven’t gotten the Hollywood spotlight yet. He deservingly gives it to them, but I yearn for the film that gave it to them without playing things so safely. Grade: B-

By Matt Dougherty

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