Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)
Synopsis: In 2008, the town of Prescott, Arizona formed an elite team to combat any wildfires threatening the town. However, the crew, lead by Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), did not start out as “Hot Shots,” the elite designation for wildfire fighters who can be requested by municipality within the United States. After their formation, they were only regular, Type-2 municipal firefighters who indirectly fight fires and had to take a backseat to the Type-1, “Hotshots,” who directly battle blazes. Through Prescott’s local fire chief and friend of the Marsh’s, Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges), Marsh and his crew are finally able to get reviewed for Type-1 certification. Just as this process is getting under way, Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a local stoner, discovers a past fling is pregnant with his child. Awoken by his impending responsibilities, McDonough interviews for an opening on the crack-shot crew, and because of Marsh’s own history, he decides to give McDonough an opportunity to prove his worth. However, by coming straight to the crew from the pipe, McDonough is the de facto weakest link as the team undergoes rigorous review for their long sought Type-1, “Hotshot” status.
It’s a slow time for movies right now in the United States. I needed a movie to see and Only the Brave was the highest reviewed movie out. I liked its cast, but the story sounded boring. Firefighting? That was just a job I wanted when I was four years old. Since then, its magic has faded making the movie have little appeal.
Please, don’t let such reasons discourage you from seeing this film. While the plot structure of an underdog team training to be great is overused, writers Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer fill it with rich details and small scenes replete with strong character development. These small asides allow the movie to be more than just an action/firefighter movie/underdog story. Instead, Only the Brave is also a movie about addiction, marriage, friendship, and bro-mance (seriously).
The last movie I remember striking such a delicate balance between creating small scenes that still utilize extraneous details to accelerate the plot was last year’s Hell or High Water. These small scenes could have just as easily torpedoed the movie by slowing the movie’s pace. My favorite of these scenes occurred after a rattlesnake bit McDonough sending him to the hospital. When he woke up from surgery, his roommate and best friend, Christopher MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch), was in a chair next to McDonough’s bed, snoring so loud he sounded like a chainsaw. As the audience watches McDonough’s face as he struggles to decide on whether to wake up MacKenzie and stop the painful snoring or let him sleep, the camera slowly pans out revealing an assortment of donut related gifts (Donut is McDonough’s nickname on the crew): Donut balloons, a giant donut pillow, and donut cards. In these brief seconds, we learn through showing, not telling, the dedication of MacKenzie to their friendship and the crew’s love for Donut while maintaining a sense of humor.
“So what?” you might think, but what I didn’t tell you was the crew hated Donut when he arrived at their station for the interview, shaking from withdrawals. Yet Marsh, their respected chief, offered him a chance to fill a coveted spot on their crew. Mackenzie was the ringleader of the hate against McDonough, especially after the Marsh forced him to lend Donut a pair of limited edition sneakers so he could complete a training run, which ruined the shoes’ value. In this hospital scene, all it takes is just a few quick shots for the audience to see how far the relationship between the crew and Donut has grown without having a heavy-handed narration or even words exchanged amongst the crew. That takes skilled writing and excellent direction.
It takes even more expertise to make a serious drama humorous. I know I failed to do the above scene justice to its comedic elements, but, believe me, it was quite funny. Actually, the whole movie had an incredibly lighthearted air that was by far my favorite aspect of Only the Brave.
If this movie is still on near you, go see it before Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League, or Pixar’s Coco kick it out of theaters. We’re in serious movie season now. I’ll try to keep up the reviews. I’m sorry it’s taken me almost a week and a half to write this review, but I started a new job recently which has zapped my energy.
For trailer, see below.
By Hagood Grantham