The 400-Word Review: Only the Brave
By Sean Collier
October 24, 2017
“Only the Brave,” a drama about an elite team of firefighters, arrives in theaters as a devastating sequence of California fires continue to burn. Whether or not that accident of timing is a good thing probably depends on your proximity, physically and emotionally, to the affected areas.
Because this film is less a dramatization or a story than it is an ode — a heartfelt and gauzy tribute to a group of fallen heroes. For most of the country, that will serve to illustrate what Californians and the teams fighting those massive blazes have faced this month (and, hopefully, will compel viewers to send a bit of cash to the recovery effort). For many, however, the film might be too real — at least right now.
Based on a 2013 GQ article, “Only the Brave” spends most of its runtime illustrating the lives of the 20-member team that would become the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Under the leadership of Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), the team hopes to join the ranks of elite squads called to fight wildfires around the country; he trains the group and pulls strings with well-connected friend Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges) to get his men noticed.
At home, though, the demands of a dangerous — and geographically varied — job puts strain on Marsh’s relationship with Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), a rancher. Meanwhile, a recovering addict and new father, Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), has come under Marsh’s wing, leaning on the demands of the tasking job to stay sober.
The individual (and assuredly fictionalized) stories of Marsh and McDonough are drawn out to give “Only the Brave” a bit of narrative direction, which would be too clearly lacking otherwise. There isn’t a neat structure to a film made primarily to memorialize sacrifice; this is a story meant to tell us how these lives were lived and why they were lost. It’s not an exercise in tight storytelling.
The credit goes mostly to the cast, as Brolin and Teller bring their customary, raw energy to their performances; Bridges also handles himself quite well, particularly in a difficult later scene. Director Joseph Kosinski mostly stays out of the way.
Is it a good movie, by the standards which I usually evaluate films? It’s hard to say. It does not have those ambitions. I will resist the urge to nitpick a movie that is not in any way concerned with such objections.
My Rating: 6/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark