We’ve all seen video of the horrific wildfires going on right now in California – and some of you have experienced the destruction up close. A new film, based on the true story of one group of wildland firefighters, is out in theaters this week.
“Only the Brave” is the story of the real-life Prescott, Arizona firefighting unit known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots. We see these men working on the front lines – battling wildfires in scorching heat – using their specific techniques and skills while attempting to contain massive blazes, and prevent the loss of land, homes and lives.
Josh Brolin plays Eric Marsh, the group’s leader. He’s deeply devoted to his job, and wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) isn’t happy about it. Their relationship struggles take up a significant amount of “Only the Brave”. While Brolin is as good as ever and Connelly is excellent, these scenes significantly dampen the flow of what should’ve been a much more action-packed action film.
Once again, Miles Teller plays a troubled young man looking for redemption. His Brendan is a drug addict and petty criminal who learns that he’s going to be a father. So he’s given a chance to join the team by Marsh, over the objections of the rest of the crew.
“Only the Brave” devotes the first half of its 2 hour, 15 minute runtime to allowing us to get to know these three and a few other main characters: firefighter Chris (Taylor Kitsch) and Eric’s superior Duane (played by Jeff Bridges, who even does a bit of singing in the film). The team has to pass a test before they can officially become “Hotshots”, but we know this is going to happen, so the time devoted to the certification quest is a waste.
What makes movies like this work – what audiences want to see – are remarkable people doing remarkable things. But director Joseph Kosinski (“Oblivion”, “TRON: Legacy”) doesn’t give us that. There’s shockingly little suspense or surprise for the majority of “Only the Brave”.
The visual effects used to depict the fires are impressive, but the scenes showing these brave men fighting them just aren’t compelling. Trench digging does not produce dramatic tension. And there’s a lot of trench digging. And a couple of subplots involving the Brendan character feel forced.
“Only the Brave” was made because of what’s portrayed in the final 15 minutes. This sequence is legitimately intense and moving, with a raw energy and emotion that should’ve been present throughout the entire film.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Only the Brave” gets a C+.
Running Time: 143 min.