Only the Brave


★★★★

Directed by Joseph Kosinski Starring Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Taylor Kitsch, James Badge Dale, Jeff Bridges

Film Review by Kieran Freemantle


Only the Brave is a true-life drama about the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the first and so far only Municipal fire department in the United States to earn the elite status as Type 1 firefighters. Set over the course of a year, Only the Brave mainly follows Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), the superintendent of the department who is determined to get his crew Type 1 status, and Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a drug addict who decides to get clean and join the fire department after the birth of his daughter. Brendan is a young man that Eric takes under his wing. When the Prescott Fire Department earn their status they call themselves the Granite Mountain Hotshots and are sent across the Southwest of America to help battle fire forests. There has been a boom in films marketed to appeal to middle-American audiences like Lone Survivor, American Sniper, 13 Hours and Deepwater Horizon. Only the Brave easily fits into this mould, a story about high working Joes in extraordinary circumstances. Macho films that celebrate their bravery. Most of those aforementioned films appealed to right-leaning audiences and Only the Brave does have a certain amount of flag waving - it is set in Arizona where country-and-western and ranches dominate. Yet since the focus is on firefighters instead of soldiers, Only the Brave can attract audiences with differing political views without them feeling conflicted. It is easy to admire and respect the job firefighters do. Only the Brave is set over a longer period than many of those other films mentioned. This allows the audience a chance to get to know the firefighters beyond their professional duties, showing them with their families and each other. They are a community that looks out for each other. It is a film that mixes the physical stresses of starting controlled fires in national parks and the personal and emotional strain it causes because these men have to spend so much time away from their families. The best example of this strain is between Eric and his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly): they start off as a happily married couple but as the film progresses cracks start to appear in their relationship. Because of the stress of job he ends up taking it out on his wife and Brendan, showing he is as flawed as the rest of us. The time away from Prescott also affects Brendan's relationship with his young daughter. There are 20 men in the Granite Mountain Hotshots and they are fairly indistinguishable to each other. They are all white men in their 20s and 30s and many of them have brown hair and moustaches. The only one to get any real characterisation was Taylor Kitsch's Chris, a man who starts out antagonising Brendan but slowly end up become a friend. He acted as the comic relief. James Badge Dale was also recognisable as Eric's second-in-command but that is more because of Badge Dale's roles in films like Iron Man 3 and World War Z rather than anything he did in Only the Brave. Only the Brave is the first film directed by Joseph Kosinski outside the sci-fi genre - his previous films being Tron: Legacy and Oblivion. Kosinski follows the model that Peter Berg set out in these true-life dramas. The fire fighting sequences were exhilarating and they do act as the equivalent to war scenes. The drama and the camaraderie felt natural as the men have barbecues and private parties or simply sitting around and having beers. They are a family as much as they are colleagues. However, when Only the Brave moves into its third act it stumbles into melodrama. There is a tragic event that people who know the true story should be aware of but the emotions in the aftermath were ramped up. It seemed like the director, writers and actors had to emote by screaming and crying because they believed that would add to the drama - not how people really would act. But this is a small blemish and I would be lying if I said my emotions weren't manipulated at the end. Only the Brave is a celebration of the bravery that men who put themselves in incredible danger to protect their communities. It is a worthy addition to the influx of true-life adaptations.

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