Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Only the Brave

Grade : A- Year : 2017 Director : Joseph Kosinski Running Time : 2hr 14min Genre : ,
Movie review score

It’s interesting to see a filmmaker take a dramatic left turn from their previous work, and it’s hard to imagine a change-up quite like the one director Joseph Kosinski does here. His previous films were “TRON: Legacy” and “Oblivion,” two visually-compelling, but somewhat narratively-empty, genre films, and now, he is working entirely as a director on bringing a true story to life. I personally feel like that genre work is more compelling, but “Only the Brave” succeeds as we hope films based on true stories succeed in how it brings us into the lives of the people it puts onscreen.

Based on an article by Sean Flynn, and written by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, “Only the Brave” tells the story of a group of firefighters who specialize in battling wildfires- it is the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an independently-formed group in Arizona who are on the front lines of wildfires. When the film opens, they have not received certification to be an elite unit, an opportunity for which Granite Mountain supervisor Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) is trying to procure for them with his mentor and friend, Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges), so that they will be eligible for greater opportunities during the fire season, and better money for the men who risk their lives with them. This is the arc that the film follows, but it also moves in conjunction with the story of Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a former drug addict and “head nowhere” young man who inadvertently becomes a father, and tries to turn his life around as a member of Granite Mountain.

Any film based on a true story is going to feel a bit like mythmaking, to a certain extent, lionizing the people it’s about while washing their image of some of the rough patches. There’s certainly a bit of that in “Only the Brave,” but ultimately, you do feel like this is how the real individuals were, and it’s to the credit of Kosinski, the writers and the actors that they barrel head-first into these people’s flaws, which makes what they do (putting their lives on the line to save others) truly heroic. Especially with Brendan in this film (and it’s easily one of Teller’s best performances, to date), we get a sense of how the work Granite Mountain does can change a person, and a life. He starts out the film on the road to an early death, but by the end, he is putting himself in harm’s way for work that is bigger than himself, while also struggling with what they can do to his relationship with his daughter, whose well-being inspired him to try for a position with Granite Mountain to begin with. Normally, with a film like this, Brolin’s Marsh would be the central figure, and he’s definitely at the front of this story with his wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), but Brendan is the audience’s vantage point for this story, and a very good one, for many reasons, not the least of which is what has happened by the end of the film.

On my own, I can’t say that I would have seen this film, or at least, I wouldn’t have prioritized it in theatres, but my wife loves stories about firefighters and military and anyone who puts their life on the line for others, and I’m glad we got to share this one together. Even more so than a usual story along these lines, “Only the Brave” centers around people who do a thankless, dangerous job that takes real risk to do well, and it’s a film that makes me truly grateful for the work these people, and those like them, do. This is a tough life, and Kosinski, in his best film to date, makes a tribute to how difficult it can be for those doing it. I’m grateful for their sacrifice.

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