Many dramatizations of heroic actions follow a certain pattern and “Only the Brave” is no different. However, this flick does contain some great features that put it above others.
The film tells the tale of a group of elite firefighters called the Granite Mountain Hotshots. As the movie describes early on, Hotshots are normally federal level firefighting units. However, because the Granite Mountain crew lived in an area prone to wildfires, they were able to become the first municipal unit to get the Hotshot title.
Leading the crew of Hotshots is Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), who’s the classic tough but fair supervisor. This is very true with the newest recruit Brendan (Miles Teller), a recovering drug addict who’s trying to turn his life around and gets a chance to do so by Marsh. As the movie goes along, it explores the Hotshots earning their title and facing extremely dangerous wildfires in the process.
The movie’s focus on Teller’s character takes a fairly predictable route. He’s the underdog rookie who’s somewhat of an outcast and has to “earn his keep” from both the supervisor and his peers. As he goes through his training and improves at the job, though, he goes from being the naïve newcomer to a full-fledged and respected member of the group.
Despite including that sort of familiar story arc, though, the film manages to pull it off thanks to enough time being devoted to proper development. Brendan’s story doesn’t feel rushed and is given the proper depth it should have, resulting in a compelling protagonist to follow.
The same can be said about the character Eric Marsh, whose relationship with his wife, his dedication to his job and issues from his past are all explored. The character is stoic and rough around the edges but at the same time cares about his family and his crew, and the film breaks down why that is.
From that sense, the film is pretty good. The movie not only dramatizes the events of a large wildfires, but takes audiences into the lives of the firefighters who work to contain them.
However, the praise I can give the film for its exploration of the characters portrayed by Brolin and Teller also leads to an issue. The heavy focus on the two lead protagonists makes it almost impossible to give all the members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots their due time.
This isn’t unique to “Only the Brave,” either, as there are many flicks out there with a similar premise that only have a limited amount of time to focus on a group of characters. While the film could probably never explore all the lives of these men and keep the run-time at a two hour mark, though, there were some scenes that likely could have been cut or trimmed to provide more sequences with the other characters.
One that comes to mind is another new recruit who joins the same day Brendan does. After he’s introduced, there’s very few other scenes where he makes an appearance.
Even with all of the characters not getting a lot of screen time, though, there were good performances across the board. Teller really sells the role of the rookie who’s trying to prove himself and the supporting cast, including Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly and Taylor Kitsch were solid.
Brolin, meanwhile, gave a great performance, especially in a scene where his character is seeking advice from Bridges’. This was one of the most key scenes in the whole film and Brolin basically put it on his back and carried it.
That scene was also very well shot, with Brolin in shadow for a very long take. The solid camerawork and other technical details were in the rest of the movie, too, realistically creating the many fires that the Hotshots fought.
“Only the Brave” does have some predictable character arcs and the dialogue was too clichéd and even foreshadowed too much in a few scenes. However, the film looks good, has fine performances from a talented cast and overall recreates an endearing story. 3.5 out of 5.