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Only the Brave Movie Review

Only the Brave (2017) movie poster Only the Brave

Theatrical Release: October 20, 2017 / Running Time: 134 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Joseph Kosinski / Writers: Ken Nolan, Eric Warren Singer (screenplay); Sean Flynn (GQ article "No Exit")

Cast: Josh Brolin (Eric "Supe" Marsh), Miles Teller (Brendan "Donut" McDonough), Jeff Bridges (Duane Steinbrink), Jennifer Connelly (Amanda Marsh), James Badge Dale (Jesse Steed), Taylor Kitsch (Christopher MacKenzie), Andie MacDowell (Marvel Steinbrink), Geoff Stults (Travis Turbyfill), Alex Russell (Andrew Ashcraft), Thad Luckinbill (Scott Norris), Ben Hardy (Wade Parker), Scott Haze (Clayton Whitted), Jake Picking (Anthony Rose), Scott Foxx (Travis Carter), Dylan Kenin (Robert Caldwell), Ryan Busch (Dustin DeFord), Kenny Miller (Sean Misner)


There are relatively few movies about firefighters because what is there to tell? Those who risk their lives to save others are heroic and portrayed as such in movies like Backdraft and Ladder 49.
This calling can be the backdrop for movies about marriage, whether saving one (Fireproof) or faking one (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry). But as cinematic as fire rescue seems to be, it's not an original movie onto itself.

Only the Brave gets around that limitation by acclimating us to wildfire fighters. These brave men go out to forests that are in a line of danger and use not water but axes and hoes to contain the fire. They fight fire with fire, starting ones that will prevent more trees from going up in flames. The drama isn't as obvious. There are no crying babies that need to be saved or doors that can let out the flames. Houses that could potentially be impacted are off in the distance as these firefighters are about planning ahead and minimizing damage.

"Supe" Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin, right) pushes rookie firefighter Brendan "Donut" McDonough (Miles Teller) to succeed in "Only the Brave."

Our focus is on a group of Arizona wildlife firefighters who are hoping to be certified as "Hotshots." Until then, their efforts are marginalized when other certified Hotshots groups come in and take over. The fighters are led by supervisor Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), an authority figure fully committed to this career. A no-nonsense born leader, Marsh surprises his second in command (James Badge Dale) and others when he takes a chance on Brendan McDonough (a blonde Miles Teller), a troubled young man who is trying to clean up his act after having fathered a daughter with an ex-girlfriend.

Brendan struggles to keep up with the physically fit unit, but he sticks with it and does not succumb to the taunts of Chris MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch), a loudmouth who is confrontational towards him from the start.

In no rush to tell one particular story, Only the Brave lets us see the firefighters at work and appreciate as they are certified and become the Granite Mountain Hotshots. It shows us how Marsh's devotion to his job starts to eat away at his wife (a surprisingly good Jennifer Connelly), who wants to start a family and how McDonough's buying in helps him become part of his newborn daughter's life.

The Granite Mountain Hotshots fight fire with fire in "Only the Brave."

The film is based on a true story, though one that you are better off not knowing coming in, as I did not. The film teases some disaster, but manages to surprise and move with the way that things actually play out.

This is the third film directed by Joseph Kosinski, whose first two (Tron: Legacy and the Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion) both exceeded expectations. Only extends the streak, managing to eventually unearth humanity and poignancy in what for a while looks like it will just be young men being young men and having to prove heroic.
The cast is on point. That includes Jeff Bridges as the group's avuncular chief, who even gets to sing "Riders in the Storm" in a bar scene. Young actors like Kitsch and Dale are perfectly suited to these kind of roles and Teller is comfortable too, bringing a bit more class and pizzazz than any contemporary of his would. Brolin relishes the lead role and provides more weight than other actors you could see filling the part.

Though it runs over two hours, Only does not wear out its welcome, nor does it belabor its finale, wisely recognizing there is enough drama in the true story that it doesn't need to manipulate or pull hard on your heartstrings. The film even surprises by having the cast portray real members of the squad, which is why all of them are white males at a time when all of Hollywood seems to be embracing or calling for diversity. It's kind of impressive that the film doesn't invent composites for women and men of color to be included.

Only the Brave does not seem like either a commercial certainty or an awards player. But early reviews suggest a favorable critical reaction and that could help it find an audience that appreciates it.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: American Made Battle of the Sexes Blade Runner 2049 The Florida Project Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Directed by Joseph Kosinski: Oblivion Tron: Legacy | Written by Eric Warren Singer: American Hustle
Josh Brolin: Everest Labor Day Inherent Vice No Country for Old Men | Miles Teller: War Dogs Bleed for This Fantastic Four Dirvergent
Taylor Kitsch: American Assassin Lone Survivor John Carter Battleship | Jennifer Connelly: American Pastoral Stuck in Love Winter's Tale
Deepwater Horizon The 33 Ladder 49 Eight Below

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Reviewed October 20, 2017.

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