Courtesy of Sony Pictures
Patriotism is on full display in "Only The Brave," subtitled "The Story of The Granite Mountain Hotshots," an emotionally gripping recount of the first municipal hotshot group in the country. And also, the most famous. A film that, narratively, backs itself into a predictable and heartbreakingly devastating corner. It's the kind of movie where you need to have tissues at the ready.
Taking a break from his standard science fiction cabaret, director Joseph Kosinski forgoes his usual trek into alien destruction or Tom Cruise clones, as "Only The Brave" represents a new challenge for the "Tron Legacy" helmer. Not only does he need to convey the type of quietly intense moments this film has to offer, he needs to balance it with real down to earth qualities, so it feels like we're watching nothing short of a documentary. Arguably, this is the director's best film. Enlisting in a terrific ensemble, among them: Miles Teller, Josh Brolin, James Badge Dale, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges and Taylor Kitsch, to tell a story that some of us might've forgot about. Considering all that's happening in California with the wildfires engulfing some of the natives homes, "Only The Brave" feels as timely as ever.
The film gives us our first full dose of "yee-haw!" heroism, in the opening sequences where we get a feel for the bond of this brotherhood. Brolin plays superintendent and leader of this brigade, Eric Marsh, a temperamental leader that speaks with anger, but makes decisions from the heart. His crew is the best at what they do, except, when we meet them, they're one step below the "hotshot" threshold, which means they're forced to relinquish any duties over to the competition if, and when they say so. You could see how that could be frustrating, considering Marsh and his crew know exactly what to do and when to do it, they can work under the pressure; but without proper evaluation, they lack the official title and authority.
At home, all these guys have families, and most of them have to deal with their husband and Dad not being home for dinner, because when the fire calls, they go running. It's especially taxing on Marsh's wife, Amanda (Connelly - in a role that is more than just a stay at home wife) - who's constantly fighting for his attention. Turns out, becoming a father is exactly the type of motivation burnout Brendan McDonough (Teller - who's been very busy this year) needs, when his ex girlfriend gives birth to his daughter. Suddenly, his days of laying on the couch, getting thrown in jail and doing hard drugs are over, when Marsh takes a chance on him.
McDonough is, of course, the outcast of the group, getting dubbed the nickname "Doughnut" but as time passes, he quickly becomes part of the family in their quest for hotshot glory. Each of these guys has a trait or characteristic that defines them, for instance MacKenzie (Kitsch) is the goofball of the bunch, a bachelor that tell his tales of being single so eloquently, you could watch him tell these stories all day. Ironically, him and McDonough don't get along at first, but as the movie (and their friendship) progress, we eventually see them become best buds, that culminates as they’re trying to care for McDonough’s sick baby, and neither of them know what to do. It's those small moments that help define the overall picture. It's so funny that, with as dangerous as their job is, their attempt at fatherhood, and a baby running a minor fever (nothing to serious) is scarier to them than facing the blazes of a wild fire.
For a director that was always in tune with big budgets and special effects, his best moments in "Only The Brave" are the gaping shots of the Arizona landscapes, where no effects are needed at all. The next best thing's the performances, which have to feel authentic or else the audience isn't going to believe or feel invested in their bond, which, by the end, might break you. Brolin and Connelly are given the best scenes as a husband and wife fighting for their love and marriage, and we're granted fine supporting work from Bridges and Dale respectively.
In the end, "Only The Brave" is a story we could all use right now, especially because it's a job we don't hear about that often. Even if our director settles for a simplistic ending of sorts, that's to be expected of a film that's based on a true story. These are interesting people, that live fascinating lives, as the story builds they become richer and more complicated. For all the genre ridden cliches accustomed to these type of movies, "Only The Brave" manages to showcase real heroes at work, without exploiting them. B+