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Reviewed by: Laura Ogden
I’m not going to pretend I know a lot about firefighting. Before I saw this movie, when I thought of firefighters, I thought of red trucks and Dalmatians and shirtless calendars. I’d never really thought too hard about what it must be like to voluntarily put yourself into the midst of a raging forest fire for the well being of people you’ve never met… I mean, who would do something like that? (Only The Brave, indeed).
This movie blew me away. It is directed by Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy and Oblivion) with writing by Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle). It is truly an incredible biographical action drama about the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Calling them “tight-knit” feels like an understatement – they are a brotherhood. The camaraderie between the guys in the Hotshot team is the real heart of Only The Brave, and without it, the movie would fall flat.
Jeff Bridges plays Duane, the fire chief and older mentor for Josh Brolin’s character Eric Marsh, the stern but fair commander of the Granite Mountain Hotshot team. Miles Teller plays Brendan McDonough (referred to affectionately by the guys as “Donut” throughout the movie) and does an incredible job of creating a tough but vulnerable character trying to get his life back on track by joining up with the team. Jennifer Connelly, who plays Amanda Marsh (wife of Eric Marsh), deserves an honourable mention for her performance as the stoic spouse trying not to worry about her husband’s penchant for tossing himself into local forest fires every chance he gets.
The fire is a character in itself: unpredictable, vicious, and terrifying. There are some truly mesmerising shots of the forest fires throughout the movie, none of which were overdone or too apocalyptic, but showed enough to give you a real sense of danger. The cinematography is haunting and epic, with heaps of birds-eye views and sweeping shots of beautiful, lush green forestry one moment, and hellish flames the next.
On the surface, it might seem like just another film about service and sacrifice, but Only The Brave goes deeper than that, and delves into the lives and relationships of the team as they fight to get certified and protect the local town from devastation. It might not seem like a very complex plot, but the acting and cinematography create such a realistic, vivid world that it doesn’t matter. This isn’t just an action movie – it’s a story about relationships: the relationship between brother and brother, between commander and cadet, between husband and wife, between father and daughter; but most importantly, the powerful relationship between man and nature.
Only The Brave is a testament to the bravery of the men and women who work in any dangerous field for the safety of others, and will make you fully appreciate the risks and rewards of being a Hotshot (while you sit and gorge yourself on snacks and soft drink).
As you’d expect from a movie about a bunch of dudes training and fighting fires, Only The Brave is about as macho as you can get: if you want to see guys shouting orders, felling trees, doing push-ups in the dirt, and refusing painkillers for no reason, then put down your power tools, because you’ve got a movie to see. (And did I mention Jeff Bridges? I did? Well, Jeff Bridges.) The music in the movie added to the tough-as-guts vibe with lots of rock anthems, like Metallica’s ‘Into The Fire’, ‘Long Way To The Top’ by AC/DC, and ‘Even Flow’ by Pearl Jam.
This leads onto my only complaint: this film doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. To pass the Bechdel Test, a film must have two women talking to each other about something other than a man; in many movies, women only serve as wives, mothers, and daughters who help the male characters fulfil their goals, and sadly, this is the case in Only The Brave. But in the movie’s defence, this is a story based on a real group of men who were very isolated at work, so I guess this can be overlooked in favour of everything else this movie has going for it.
I already know I’m going to be seeing this movie again, and if you want a film that will tug at your heartstrings, tickle your funny bone, and inspire you, then I’d recommend Only The Brave a hundred times over.