Joseph Kosinski’s eye for visuals has always been more interesting than his actual narratives and it was among many reasons I was rather skeptical before coming into Only the Brave. But I had known nothing about the actual story that the film was based on and when I sat down to watch it, I must say, I was taken by surprise. I was taken by surprise at how tragically the actual event had turned out to be and how the film handled such an event, because I had no real expectations before I had come into Only the Brave. All that I recognized from the marketing was Joseph Kosinski’s name and the most I could ever really make of it, it’s a true story – I had thought it only seemed melodramatic. Even worse, the title seemed rather distracting around its subject matter. But for what it’s worth, it’s as fitting a tribute to the hotshots as they can receive.
This film tells the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the elite crew of firefighters who had risked their lives to save many others from the Yarnell Hill Wildfire. Led by Eric Marsh (portrayed by Josh Brolin), they were eventually recognized as local heroes for their own sacrifice. But a newcomer Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) stumbles into becoming a father and seeks work, hoping to build his character and become a more responsible person. The whole film seems as if it’s building itself up to be a melodramatic approach to a tragedy that has befallen people, because of how such people are being shown to us as the usual imperfect hero facing daily struggles within their own lives to form the image that they have eventually become recognized for. Yet moments of sadness never felt cheap and manipulative, but instead genuine – something I would not have expected.
The approach doesn’t always work, it just feels like the typical biographical film about any imperfect hero. It’s the screenplay by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer that shows evidence that the film suffers from this weakness, because many characters seem written as type and rely primarily on how the actors portraying them are delivering. There are exceptions to the rule, however, but in looking at what director Joseph Kosinski is making of the material he has, it becomes far more than what would be expected. As usual one can expect great visuals because they are a driving force for the films of Joseph Kosinski’s science fiction fare, but it also seems rather detrimental because of the rather obvious symbolism that is presented in its beginning and in a later scene showing evidence of overreaching.
Despite the evident by-the-numbers structuring the cast still does wonderfully with what they have. As a matter of fact this film is driven primarily by its cast and in their respectable roles, everyone does beautifully and thus brings a sense of authenticity beyond typical caricatures. Josh Brolin being a father figure for the team of firefighters seems cliché already on paper yet his performance still excels greater skill in his devotion to the people who he cares for, because the firefighters off the job still good around and are almost like children to him. Quickly enough the very feeling of being typical fades away when we get a glimpse at the lives of the firefighters off the job, because Kosinski isn’t telling only their story but the effect their job has left on people that the firefighters love dearly. In turn, we receive solid performances from Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Taylor Kitsch among the lot.
But perhaps the greatest benefit that this movie had was in the fact that I had never known much about the actual story. I only knew that it was something that had actually happened, but not that it was anywhere near as tragic as shown. I was worried that the film would fall down to the levels of cheap melodrama by this point, but Kosinski’s direction places the audiences within the heat of the moment to raise the tension and lead to a well-earned sense of sadness. The eventual tribute we had received for the Granite Mountain Hotshots at the very end of the movie was incredibly touching, and in that moment, what we have a most fitting commemoration of the lives who were lost in the disaster. In that moment, the film celebrates their bravery and sacrifice, leaving on a touching note.
Only the Brave isn’t doing very much new but considering what I would have expected from the way it looked, it’s actually a touch above what one would expect from the typical “true story” based films that only abide by a formula more than anything. At its worst it still suffers at the hands of a cheesy screenplay but Joseph Kosinski’s direction as well as the cast makes up for the film’s most evident faults. I had no prior knowledge of the actual story coming into Only the Brave, but the moment it had all ended I had only ever thought about what it must have been like to be so close to the incident. I do wish that Kosinski had strived to make something that wouldn’t play too closely upon what we already know but with what he did here, it still carries that feeling of being earnest.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Sony.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Screenplay by Ken Nolan, Eric Warren Singer
Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Thad Luckinbill, Trent Luckinbill, Michael Menchel, Dawn Ostroff, Molly Smith, Jeremy Steckler
Starring Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 133 minutes