Spotlight Columns

Buttered and Salty: Only The Brave

By From page B2 | October 25, 2017

ONLY THE BRAVE
*  *  *
PG-13,  2 h 13 min – Biography, Drama 

“Only the Brave” is a well-made, although routine, film that is enhanced by the casting of its 20 firefighters who battled one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history.

The film — based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots — is about a group of elite firefighters who risked everything to protect a town in Arizona from a historic wildfire. You would be correct if you assumed my mind began to wander to the heartbreaking and horrible blazes currently destroying parts of our own state. The fact that I was in a theater full of firefighters and their families made this experience even more poignant.

In any ensemble piece you have to focus on a select number of the characters or risk an overstuffed movie. This is especially true here, where 20 characters make up the team of heroes on which the story is based. Writers Eric Warren Singer (“American Hustle”) and Ken Nolan (“Transformers: The Last Knight”) chose to focus on two here: Granite Mountain Hotshot Superintendent Eric Marsh, played with quiet resolve by Josh Brolin, and Miles Teller’s young delinquent Brendan McDonough, who attempts to walk the line to clean up his addiction and life for the sake of his newborn baby. Both actors are really good here. 

This was an acceptable move that gives the film focus and heart. The only issue with the decision to spotlight the story on these two men is that the other 18 firefighters don’t get a whole heck of a lot of memorable screen time. Minutes after walking out of the theater I was struggling to remember more than four of the main firefighters. When the credits roll and the film shows the actors’ pictures alongside the real men who they were playing, I didn’t remember most of them. 

Rounding out the ensemble with the most screen time are Jeff Bridges (“The Big Lewbowski”), who nails the retired division chief Duane Steinbrink; Andie MacDowell (“Groundhog Day”), who is completely underused as his wife Marvel; Jennifer Connelly (“A Beautiful Mind”), who impresses as the independent but lonely wife of Brolin’s Marsh; and Taylor Kitsch (“Friday Night Lights”), who has some of the film’s best moments alongside Miles Teller in the progression of their enemy-to-bro relationship. 

Director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”) keeps things interesting and sticks the landing emotionally with the wonderfully committed performances by his cast. The look of the film is impressive with beautifully photographed vistas and mountains of Arizona. 

The music by composer Joseph Trapanese is either sparse or so forgettable that I don’t remember it. At least there are a couple of songs to enjoy on the soundtrack. One was written specifically for the film by country artist Dierks Bentley. The film knows its audience; I’ll give it that. 

As the climax of the film approached, I also thought a lot about the friends I have who’ve committed their lives to protecting our lands here in El Dorado County and surrounding areas. These are extraordinary men and women who do an extremely dangerous job that only a select few can. I tip my cap to all of them and am proud to know them. 

In a promotional video for press before the start of the film, actor Josh Brolin declared: “Every person that sees this movie is going to want to wave a little bit longer to every firefighter they see.” I hope so. 

The film leans on its performances, and with a film like this that leads with its heart, that’s all you need. Just remember to bring the Kleenex box.

Joshua B. Porter is a writer/director/producer. The most recent film he produced, “August Falls,” is currently available on Amazon Prime as well as other streaming services. He can be reached at @joshuabporter or [email protected]

Joshua Porter

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