By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** ½ out of 4
Who would have thought the director of Tron: Legacy and Oblivion did a better job directing a firefighter drama than Ron Howard? I can go on record and say Only the Brave is director, Joseph Kosinski’s (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) best movie so far.
The film is based on the true story about the elite crew of firefighters who battled the Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013. And damn, did they knock this movie out of the park? This is one of the most powerful and inspiring films I’ve seen in a long time, it captures intensity and dramatic elements without losing its heart and moral of family and doesn’t go into full-blown Hollywood spectacle mode like several other films based on real-life events.
Yes, it does have a very expensive-looking shot of a bear on fire running towards the viewer and a lot of the fire sequences do look very Hollywood blockbuster-ish but the film packs a lot of story and character and results in more substance than style. Listen Michael Bay, you can still burn and blow things up but have a strong narrative and actual characters at the same time.
The film follows the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a local firefighter unit that through hope, determination, sacrifice, and the urge to protect their families, neighborhood, and country become one of the most elite firefighting teams in the country. The team consists of Eric “Supe” Marsh (Josh Brolin-True Grit, Men in Black 3, Marvel Cinematic Universe), Brendan “Donut” McDonough (Miles Teller-The Spectacular Now, Whiplash, War Dogs), Jesse Steed (James Badge Dale-The Departed, The Grey, Flight), Chris MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch-Snakes on a Plane, Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor), Travis Turbyfill (Geoff Stults-D.E.B.S., Wedding Crashers, J. Edgar), Andrew Ashcraft (Alex Russell-Carrie (2013), Unbroken, Blood in the Water), Scott Norris (Thad Luckinbill-The Young and the Restless, The Good Lie, Sicario), Wade Parker (Ben Hardy-EastEnders, X-Men: Apocalypse, Mary Shelley), and Clayton Whitted (Scott Haze-CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Midnight Special, The Vault) who risk their lives every day to protect their country and especially their loved ones by instead of running away from danger they run towards it and watch over our lives and everything we hold dear.
With the support of Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges-Tron, The Big Lebowski, Iron Man, who previously worked with Kosinski and Brolin on Tron: Legacy (Kosinski) and True Grit (2010) (Brolin)), Eric’s wife, Amanda Marsh (Jennifer Connelly-Labyrinth, Requiem for a Dream, A Beautiful Mind), Duane’s wife, Marvel Steinbrink (Andie MacDowell-Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Groundhog Day, Magic Mike XXL), and Brendan’s ex-wife, Natalie Johnson (Natalie Hall-All My Children, Pretty Little Liars, Star-Crossed) this team of firefighters will learn the importance of family and teamwork, prepare, and protect their loved ones by battling the Yarnell Hill Fire of June 2013 and coming out as national heroes.
Overall, Only the Brave does everything a great drama should do especially when it’s based on an actual event, have a powerful story that understands the reality of the event, well-developed characters with believable acting, and hits the emotions and make the people watching care. The performances by the lead actors especially Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, and Jeff Bridges are amazing and they sell it so well that you almost forget that they’re acting, also on a side note this is the best I’ve seen Taylor Hirsch so far and hopefully he’ll get better acting roles in the future, the guy’s come a long way since the critical and financial flop, John Carter.
Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, and Jennifer Connelly have become cinema darlings when it came to their acting and there’s no exception here. Brolin as the leader of the firefighters obviously that works well, Jeff Bridges as the wildland division chief of the city of Prescott who is partially responsible for creating the Hotshots and plays Ghost Riders in the Sky in a bar works to a tease since Bridges has rocked a guitar before with Crazy Heart, and Jennifer Connelly despite being a supporting role doesn’t slack off and continues to make an impression every time she’s on-screen, and even Miles Teller is following in their footsteps and already becoming a new classic film icon star.
The movie tackles the importance of sacrifice, being dedicated to your work, and family in all the right ways without getting hammy and forced and the actors nail every moment. At first it feels like a typical team of misfits who don’t get along but as the movie progresses a strong brotherhood with a near-perfect blend of fun chemistry between the characters, thrills, and tragedy and those who are familiar with the actual event already know how this movie ends.
Only the Brave honors the Granite Mountain Hotshots and a gripping drama that’ll hopefully gain some Oscar attention later on this year. It’s a powerful experience and a touching tribute to a group of men who risked their lives to save the people they loved, it’s like the Hacksaw Ridge of firefighter dramas and if Ron Howard popularized the genre with Backdraft then Joseph Kosinski perfected it here, it shines just as bright as the fire that inspired it.