Gripping in parts and with good performances, it's just a shame that it's so predictable.
Only the Brave is the true-life story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a crew of firefighters in Arizona dedicated exclusively to large scale forest fires. The film focuses on their leader Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) as he desperately attempts to get the crew certified which would legitimise them and allow them to become involved in the front line. New to the crew is Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), an addict who has recently become a father and is attempting to lead a better life. With a brilliantly promising ensemble cast and a compelling premise, the film is executed with passion and skill, but unfortunately struggles to shake off the disaster movie genre tropes that we all know.
The main issue of the film is the general storyline and themes, which are unfortunately all too familiar and dealt with in the usual way. With the heroic firefighting story, alike similar film Backdraft, it studies the theme of loyalty and sacrifice to the cause. The strain of the job on the home lives of the men is explored in depth as well as the rugged and flawed nature of the fire fighters themselves. In Miles Teller’s character, we get a conventional underdog who we route for to make something of himself and prove everyone wrong. These are engaging and stirring motifs, but due to their cookie cutter nature in this film, they never feel authentic. However, the film isn’t slap dash in execution, a sense of camaraderie and friendship within the crew is built effectively and the final act is thrilling.
Director Joseph Kosinski’s previous work isn’t quite noteworthy, with films such as Tron: Legacy and the odd Tom Cruise sci-fi flick Oblivion. His work here is a mixed bag. While he stages the action sequences very well by a clean-cut presentation that allows all the special effects to be enjoyed, overall his choices are cliché and a tad overly sentimental. An attempt to be profound is created by a motif of a burning bear (a memory of our lead character) which is visually unconvincing and unfortunately is quite hollow and basic in its function as a metaphor. Additionally, some of the emotional sequences are staged in a very sentimental nature. The climax falls into this category and the sequence that deals with heart to heart moments between the firefighters have the same formulaic issues as the script.
A redeeming feature of the film is the cast with Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly supporting our two leads. Jeff Bridges is as enjoyable and charismatic as ever as a rough Texan cowboy and Jennifer Connelly brings a great level of commitment and intensity to a formulaic character of a wife who feels she is side-lined by her husband’s obsession with the job. Teller’s performances while at start seems over the top in his stoner attitude does deal well with the emotionally intense scenes later in the film. Brolin’s casting is note perfect for the rugged angry leader of the outfit and does admirably with the lacking script he is given.
The only real crime of Only the Brave is the issues of its formulaic state. While the ending does pack a punch and the cast are overall on good form, you don’t become truly invested in the characters due to the overall generic nature. So while it’s entertaining to be taken along for the ride again, it’s a film that closely follows the footsteps of similar ventures. It’s a shame that more wasn’t done in the writing stage to create some more engaging characters and dialogue, especially when you consider the strength of the cast.
Only the Brave (2017), directed by Joseph Kosinski, is distributed in the UK by Lionsgate, Certificate 12A.