I went into Only The Brave expecting a glorified, hyper-masculine environment, with mediocre plot and dialogue, watching Miles Teller (Whiplash, War Dogs) trying to prove himself as a “man’s man”. Boy was I in for a surprise. Joseph Kosinski’s (Oblivion, TRON: Legacy) previous work had always looked stunning, but been a bit short in story and character, but Only The Brave throws that preconception way out of the water and holds its own as a stoic, character-driven, disaster movie worthy of recognition.
Only The Brave is great. Really, friggen, great, and I’m so happy for it, and everyone involved. Let’s start by pointing out that many of the responses to Geostorm, which had come out a few weeks prior, highlighted how few people cared about “disaster movies” that it was a product of the ‘90s, desperately trying to cling to live by throwing everything at the wall and hoping something sticks. Other than San Andres (2015), which was somewhat well received, films like Into The Storm (2014) and The Wave (2015) come to mind, remnants of the Twister’s (1996), Deep Impact’s (1998) and Armageddon’s (1998) of the world. But despite the genre spiralling into larger and larger world-ending situations Independence Day (1996) The Day After Tomorrow (2004), sometimes simply raising the stakes more and more and more and more doesn’t work *cough* Geostorm *cough*. Only The Brave pulls that way back. Way, way back, and tells the true story of Granite Mountain Hot Shots, a group of fire fights, battling a blaze in Yarnell, Arizona in 2013. There’s a GQ article that told the story which inspired the film here, but fair warning, the article contains spoilers, whereas what I’ve written below does not. Read this, then go watch the movie, then come back and find that GQ article when you’re curious about how much actually happened and how much was story.
One of the reasons I’m not a fan of war movies is the glorification of hyper-masculine environments, where men get trained to go off and kill other men. No thanks, that’s not for me. And near the beginning of Only The Brave, there is a lot of that. That hyper-masculinity. To be frank, I’m not a fan of Miles Teller in those roles. I thought he was genuinely outstanding in Whiplash, but wasn’t a fan of who he was playing in the Divergent series. So when Only The Brave starts, and Miles Teller is playing a cocky, high, arrogant, unlikable a-hole, I didn’t really buy it. No thanks, I don’t see him as that guy. I don’t believe you. Nope. But then Teller’s character cops a few rough kicks in the balls pretty early on, and essentially plays the rest of the film in a constant state of dragging yourself back to an existence worth existing in, crossing a high-wire between vulnerability and capability, Teller shines magnificently. Which is a nice through line for the entire film. It starts a little too heavy-handed. Yes, okay, I get it, these guys are down on their luck – but then as the film progresses, the brilliant performances and dialogue suck you in. And they suck you in hard, by the end there’s tears streaming down my face, unabashedly, completely moved by this film. Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down, Transformers: The Last Knight) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle, The International) were credited with writing, and apart from the early missteps, I take my hat off to them for sucking me in so damn hard.
The ensemble cast is something that can’t be oversold in this film. Everyone is on top of their game, and it’s marvellous to watch. Opening scenes with just such superbly written dialogue between powerhouses Josh Brolin (Milk, Sicario) and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Requiem for a Dream) highlight the strength of this film. It is simply, believable. That dialogue is how people talk. Those performances are how people act. Not all the way through, as I said the film’s first act works a little too hard sometimes, but the main ensemble cast, is brilliant. Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, True Grit), James Badge Dale (The Departed, Iron Man 3) and Taylor Kitsch (John Carter, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) really help to flesh out different dynamics within an ensemble that could essentially have been a mish-mash of samey, white, straight, male, heteronormative, masculine, team-based environment that keeps the character interesting and your audience invested. Not to mention, just as an aside, that Only The Brave essentially has Cable (Josh Brolin), Thanos (Josh Brolin), Mr Fantastic (Teller), Iron Monger (Jeff Bridges), Spider-Man’s “Suit Lady” (Jennifer Connelly), Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) and Extremis-infused Coldblood 7 (James Badge Dale). That’s a Marvel team up I’m be totally on board with.
Further to the exceptional work of the cast, director of photography Claudio Miranda who also worked with Kosinski on Oblivion and TRON: Legacy as well as taking home an Oscar for Life of Pi, threw the audience into this world of danger and beauty, of American wildlife and forest fires and small-town living that worked. It really, really worked.
Overall, this isn’t an earth-shattering film, it’s not going to blow your mind, but it’s very, very well done. The stakes are realistic but genuine, the performances are great, the writing is solid, and you’ll need a bucket of tissues by the time you leave. Only The Brave is showing in cinemas from 30th November, so if you’re not interested in the mediocrity of Justice League but still want to watch a movie about a bunch of heroes – this is the film for you.
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