As true stories go, Only the Brave is as straightforward and old-fashioned as movie-making can get. And in this time, the things that are coming to light… I think we might need something a little old-fashioned.
Only the Brave (2017) is a biography drama directed by Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion). Based on true events, it stars Josh Brolin as Eric Marsh, leader of the Granite Mountain Hotshots – a group of elite firefighters who protect their hometown and surrounding area from blazes on the regular.
A film of both parts calm and rage – much like the fires its frequently depicting – Only the Brave may not break much new ground but it still exists as an incredibly solid biographical depiction of an actually ground-breaking fire crew. While the overarching plot of the film doesn’t ebb and flow naturally at times, the no-nonsense and clear storytelling keeps the film relatively compelling even through a few rough structural patches. Much like the real life its presenting, this isn’t a tightly constructed story with a beginning, middle and end. But that grounding in reality makes for an experience that is hugely impactful in making you care for these characters and allows director Kosinski to tug on the heartstrings both so deftly and forcefully whenever its required.
Speaking of Kosinski, while I may have mixed feelings about his previous work the one thing he’s yet to disappoint on is visual style. While definitely not as flashy as Tron: Legacy, the way Only the Brave depicts the vast untamed wilderness and raging fires at the film’s dramatic core is so wonderful and subdued. The film has a fantastic use of lighting and contrast from the brights to the darks, and it comes with little surprise that cinematographer Claudio Miranda has worked on not only Kosinski’s previous films but also the stunning Life of Pi.
While Josh Brolin may be the figurehead of the film – and a mighty fine one at that – this is ultimately an ensemble acting piece. Other great talents such as Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges and even Taylor Kitsch all bring their respective talents to the screen. Special mentions go to Jeff Bridges for basically just playing Jeff Bridges as usual, and also Miles Teller – he may even receive more screentime than Brolin and does a great job portraying Brendan McDonough, the new recruit to the hotshots, as this struggling kid desperate to turn his life around. I also should not discount Brolin in the main role – he is one of the most reliable performers in Hollywood at the moment and he embodies Marsh with an incredible amount of subtly and emotion.
Only the Brave may not set any box offices or critics on fire, but that doesn’t mean it should be seen as anything less than an incredibly solid biographical drama. Great cinematography, great performances and a story that will singe your heart, Only the Brave burns bright.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended