If you want a movie about doctors and hospitals, there are plenty about the pressures of saving lives. If you want a movie about the police, you can’t move for all the tales of normal people trying to take down the most evil in society. But the other emergency service, the fire brigade, haven’t been on the silver screen half as much. There’s Backdraft and erm, not much else. It’s a shame because there’s plenty of room to make thrilling dramas about the men who run into the fire to save people. So can Only The Brave start a new line of firefighter movies?
After years of trying, Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin, No Country For Old Men) finally receives certification for his group of men to become Hot Shots, an elite band of fire fighters dispatched to deal with massive forest fires. However with some of the men suffering personal problems being away so long dealing with these fires, some consider leaving the Hot Shots to lead a more normal life.
So it’s not a regular firefighter movie. Instead of it being about a man named Sam fetching cats out of trees, it’s about the incredibly tough task of dealing with these massive forest fires which are known to wipe entire towns of the maps. The epic scale of this does draw you in because there is just something innately compelling about seeing a group of regular joes, the movie will constantly repeat how they are just normal working class folk, taking on blazes such as this. One of the minor quibbles I have, I will get onto the more major ones later on in the review, is that there is a lot of technical talk about the complex way which these fires are put out. Instead of showing us what they do, they tell us which is breaking the first rule of film making which is show not tell. And this stuff is really dry so it’s likely to make you fall asleep watching.
There is a lot of focus on the characters but while the Hot Shots are massive group of people, most get ignored in focus of two men. One of Eric as the leader of the Hot Shots as he desperately tries to get them that status and then lead those men into the massive forest fires as they look to control and then put them out. And the other guy who gets a lot of attention is Brendan (Miles Teller, Fantastic Four) as a druggie who is quite frankly failing at life getting a chance to be with the Hot Shots and turn himself around. There are some other characters which get a bit of time but most of the group which doesn’t really get much screen time. This isn’t a criticism though as with limited screen time, you do have to focus on a few guys and their stories or else it becomes a mess.
I just wish their personal stories were not as clichéd as they are. Now this is where I mention this is based on a real life story so I’m not sure how much of their personal stories are real or contrived for the movie. I’m not going to criticise the movie if it has been because you need some personal stakes out of nowhere and I’m fine with some glamourising of the truth as long as it’s not insulting to anyone in the movie. But their plots are so been there done that. Eric is someone is so obsessed with his Hot Shots that he ends up ignoring everything else including his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind). Brendan is a person who goes from the bottom to the top but is conflicted because he has to ignore personal issues. These are stories that have been told before and there’s nothing especially special about the way they tell them here.
That is the biggest issue with the movie, that it relies too much on old story telling techniques. There are too many times where you can see what they are doing and realise you’ve seen it in a million other movies. That definitely lessens the impact and with this being a movie that is trying to revolve around character rather than story, it needs whatever plot beats it has to hit home. If I dare breach slightly into spoiler territory, a character before the climax comments how this will be his last job. You know films and know exactly what is going to happen when someone says that. This sort of thing constantly comes up throughout the runtime.
The movie makes up for a lot of its foibles at the end which a truly brilliant last twenty minutes. Obviously I can’t detail too much what happens because of spoilers but this is a fantastic end to the film that no matter how many issues I had with the movie, everything was worth it to have this ending hit you like a tonne of bricks. It is so heart rending and will get you to at least tear up because of the brilliant acting from the extras. We don’t press background actors enough because you usually don’t notice when they are doing well but it is they who make the final moments of this movie really hit home.
But even with a stunning climax, Only The Brave does fall short. I just can’t overlook that the fact the movie relies too much on clichés and story beats that were old the moment they were made, never mind now in 2018. There is plenty to like, I’ve not even mentioned the visuals which are stunning at times though shonky at others, and I’m sure plenty will find this to be a powerful movie. But for me, this just didn’t make the impact it wanted to until the very end.
Dir: Joseph Kosinski
Scr: Sean Flynn, Ken Nolan, Eric Warren Singer
Cast: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, James Badge Dale
Prd: Loreno di Bonaventura, Bruce Franklyn, Eric Howsam, Thad Luckinbill, Trent Luckinbill, Emma McGill, Michael Menchel, Dawn Ostroff, Jon Schumacher, Ellen H. Schwartz, Molly Smith, Jeremy Steckler
DOP: Claudio Miranda
Music: Joseph Trapanese
Runtime: 134 minutes
Only the Brave is available on Digital, Blu-Ray and DVD now.