Written by Aaron Radcliff:
I must admit that, regarding every movie I’ve seen this year before and since starting this blog, I’ve had some relative knowledge of them going into the theater. Leading up to this week, I had every intention of seeing and writing about The Snowman. However, word spread quickly about the sheer awfulness of it and the hilarity of being stuck watching a film with a lead man named Harry Hole, thus forcing me to reevaluate my position. That’s when I stumbled across a film that I had absolutely no idea about and I decided right then and there to blindly commit to it, quality be damned.
With that, Only the Brave tells the real-life story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a crew of firemen from Prescott, Arizona. The film focuses on the inception of the Hotshots, their various exploits, their personal lives, and the tragic events of the Yarnell Hill Fire.
Rather than throwing us into the events of Yarnell Hill and basing the entire movie around that, director Joseph Kosinski and writers Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer dedicate much of the movie to the history of the Hotshots. In fact, we spend the first 40 minutes of the film just watching these guys’ personal lives before we even see a fire. And that’s what this film does well: Character development. We get to see the struggles that each of the main characters go through and how being a firefighter, especially one in a position like the Hotshots, affects them and their families.
Ultimately, this movie is about the Hotshots. They need that focus and they’re given more than enough. We use the story of Eric Marsh and his wife, Amanda (Josh Brolin and Jennifer Connelly) to see how this line of work affects even the strongest of couples. Meanwhile, we get both a redemption story and a focus on trying to maintain a family under these conditions through the story of Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller). These two focused stories allow us to see into the struggles each of the men on the Hotshots have to endure.
As I mentioned earlier, we go about 40 minutes before seeing any type of fire or action. When we do, rather than making them action pieces, Kosinski instead uses them to focus on the Hotshots and how they work together and come closer together. As the film goes, we see their bonds and brotherhood grow and become stronger. It’s ultimately these focuses on character and their development that make you grow attached to them and what makes the ending a true punch to the gut, even though we can see it coming a mile away.
If it seems like I’m harping way too much on the character building, that’s because that’s almost 90% of the whole movie. While I am a fan of strong character and storytelling, we do need a limit and the film exceeds its limit by about 30 minutes. Plus, this is a story about firefighters. It would be nice to see more of the Hotshots in action showing just how good they were as a group. Instead, we’re meant to infer their greatness by the copious amounts of training we are shown, their elite status, and a few minutes at a time of actual firefighting. It was this super reliance on ONLY character building that started to tire me out as the film went on. There are multiple scenes that I can list that can be completely cut and their absence would change absolutely nothing about the story or hinder the development.
At the end of it all, Only the Brave is an enjoyable and truly heartfelt film that gives a grounded perspective into the lives of people who work to keep us safe. If a bloated run time and a cut down on action is what I have to trade in exchange for good story, great character building, and an ending that honestly made me shed a couple tears, then I’ll make that trade.
Score: 7 out of 10
Photo via Columbia Pictures