Thursday, October 19, 2017

'Only the Brave' is a Beautiful Yet Flawed Tribute Movie

Miles Teller and Josh Brolin face off in Only the Brave (Black Label Media)

 MOVIE REVIEW 

Director Joseph Konsinski makes a good point when he says, “In an age of superheroes, Only the Brave is a film about real heroes.” Truly we can afford to see more true-life adventures of the men and women who protect us. Only the Brave aims to bring tribute to the 20 men who battled the deadly Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona back in 2013, but sadly, the film falls on its own sword in its attempt.

Though beautifully shot, Only the Brave is a frustrating movie and proves that it can’t get by on looks alone. It begins with a rocky start of bad lines and finishes on a sour note. Though the trailers promise an exciting adventure about a forest fire, the movie is more of a drama with a fire in the backdrop. This in itself isn’t a bad idea, but as a tribute all of the men, the script chooses to only focus on two characters: Fire supervisor Eric Marsh and rookie firefighter, Brendan McDonough. The rest of the guys are given about two lines of dialogue each and often it’s in the form of locker room talk rather than the matter at hand. These men were heroes, but they are presented as sort of a good ‘ol boys club instead. The story moves at a snail’s pace and then suddenly, it’s over and it becomes apparent that we really didn’t learn much about any of these other characters. With that said, what the film gets right is the interaction between Marsh and McDonough played by Josh Brolin and Miles Teller respectively.

Only the Brave is based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots featured in Sean Flynn’s GQ article “No Exit: The Granite Mountain Yarnell Fire Investigation.” The Hotshots literally fight fire with fire, but even after watching the movie, I’m not exactly sure how. What is clear though is how tough the job is.


The movie opens with Marsh on his way to work when his wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) confronts him about the fight they had the night before. The two apologize to each other and I applaud this film for not making this couple perfect. At the office, Marsh interviews different men wanting to join the ranks of the Hotshots. Brendan McDonough is one of those guys. After finding out this his ex-girlfriend is pregnant with his child, Brendan tries to clean up his act by getting off drugs and proving himself (and her) by joining the team, therefore being able to provide for them. Brendan is clearly not up for the task, but Marsh sees something in the young man and gives him chance. After a half hour or so, the audience learns what it was that inspired Marsh to give McDonough the chance. Both actors are very good in their roles and play off one another great.

As is expected with movies like this, Brendan doesn’t mesh well with his new team, but he is determined to make a better man out of himself. We also learn that firefighting is also hard on the spouses. Amanda slowly becomes more agitated with her husband being away from home so often and desires to start a family, something he does not. Unlike other similar movies, this one gives Amanda more to do than just pout. She’s a horse trainer/rehabilitation special (or something) and for some reason, is given a fairly long scene getting a horse to trust her as she cleans up its wounds. Perhaps its a metaphor of her relationship with her husband? She is also able to hold her own when arguing with her husband. This helps round out Eric’s character as well as she forces him to deal with his issues rather than avoiding them.

Unfortunately, Andie MacDowell doesn’t get as much to do. She plays the wife of Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges), who is the Prescott Wildland Fire Chief. She only gets to say two or three lines of dialogue including this gem, “It’s hard sharing your man with a fire.” She and her husband serve as listening ears and shoulders to cry on for both Amanda and Eric. One scene plays out nicely with Duane giving Eric some sage advice outside under the glow of a lantern.

The bottom line here is that the film feels half-finished. There are a lot of painfully awkward lines spoken in Only the Brave. Fortunately, most of them are spoken within the first half hour. The film also moves very slowly to the film's climax and then suddenly its over and you're left wondering, "This is it?" In the film’s sudden haste to finish up and get the credits rolling, it would have been nice to see how Brendan is adjusting to life after the big fire. Instead, we are left with a rather somber ending rather than an inspiring one.

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