Movie Review: ‘ONLY THE BRAVE’ offers a stirring, solidly crafted tribute

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

ONLY THE BRAVE

Rated PG-13, 133 minutes.
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Josh BrolinMiles TellerJeff BridgesJennifer ConnellyJames Badge DaleTaylor KitschAndie MacDowell and Geoff Stults

ONLY THE BRAVE tells the story of a team of Arizona firefighters called “The Granite Mountain Hotshots” who risk it all to prevent natural forest fires from consuming the lives and homes of the people around them. Directed by a relatively green filmmaker, Joseph Kosinski (TRON: LEGACY), the film is surprisingly effective and moving, even if it does stumble here and there.

The film follows Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) as he passionately follows his dream to be the superintendent of his own crew of elite firefighters. Marsh has little tolerance for nonsense and pushes his men to their absolute limits in pursuit of the title. Contrasting Marsh’s by-the-book demeanor is Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a washed up crackhead who gave up on a life of honor long ago. Shocked by the reality of his newfound responsibility as a father, McDonough joins Marsh’s team with the hope of getting his life back on track.

Josh Brolin and Jennifer Connelly star in ‘ONLY THE BRAVE.’ Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

As is the case with most films based on true stories, the majority of the minor characters on the screen receive little to no development, outside of a single trait, and are unfortunately placed on the sidelines for nearly every scene. Standing out among the supporting cast is Marsh’s wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), who resents the fact that she must share her husband with the fires he fights. What could have been a simple one-note character is given a refreshing amount of depth, making her all the more relatable when tragedy inevitably strikes. Jeff Bridges does just fine as Marsh’s mentor and friend Duane Steinbrink, but is frankly retreading old territory we’ve already seen in previous roles.

The first half hour or so struggles to maintain a sense of time and pacing. For example, we see an early scene establish Brendan’s ex-girlfriend (Natalie Hall) is five months pregnant, only to cut to the baby being born in a matter of minutes with no clear passage of time. Additionally, in spite of spending an admirable amount of time establishing the bond shared between the men of Granite Mountain, very little effort is made to explain how and why the firefighting techniques used are able to make a significant difference. We see them doing what they do, but have little understanding as to what it will accomplish.

However, the film truly finds its footing after the somewhat bumpy first act. Bonds of brotherhood are in full swing as these men and their families bring a warm sense of community to the towns they protect and offer meaning for why they put their lives on the line. Contrasting these moments at home are the wildly intense fire scenes. These moments are often terrifying and sobering to behold as the roaring and relentless flames spread to devour everything in their path.

While the film’s emotional climax could have easily strayed into that of manipulation and melodrama, it is able to pull at the heartstrings in just the right way and maintain a level of sincerity and respect for both the audience and the men it seeks to honor. It is a powerful experience that pushes you to grab a hold of your loved ones and think twice about letting go.

Grade: B+

ONLY THE BRAVE opens nationwide on Friday, Oct. 20.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.