Only The Brave: Film Review
Cast: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, Andie MacDowell
Director: Jospeh Kosinski
In many ways, lots of Only The Brave shouldn't work.
It's cliched as hell from the dialogue to the direction, it suffers from Hollywood's strangulating true story codas where the real images are plastered over the screen moments after it ends in a music montage, and its story is entirely tragic and predictable even if you don't know the Granite Mountain Hotshots tale.
And yet, Only The Brave still somehow manages to be quite moving and earnest as it lumbers to its disastrous denouement.
It's largely thanks to a genuine performance from Josh Brolin, as the leader, Eric Marsh, of a municipal group of firefighters in Arizona who desperately want to be verified so they can be part of the fire season rotation.
Miles Teller plays junkie Brendan McDonough whose redemption arc begins after he ends up jailed and high and a first-time father. Deciding to turn his life around, he approaches Brolin's Eric to see if he can join the team.
So far, so cliched.
And if you add to that, the fact that Brendan doesn't gel with the team - notably Kitsch's Mac, plus the clash of families and their men in danger and whether it's worth it, you can feel the hoary old tropes burning as hot as the flames on the screen.
Yet, due to an earnest and compassionate turn from Brolin, the flames are less about fire-fighting and more about kindling the flames of bromance as this two-and-a-quarter hour ode to fallen heroes unspools unshowingly and with heart-on-sleeve.
But with the central relationships feeling real, and the dynamics successfully explored and barely exploited, Kosinski's solid, never spectacular, direction somehow means that Only The Brave creeps under your skin as it moves to its inevitable end.
The universal appeal of the main members of the cast and anchored by Brolin's prophet-like turn, the tragedy bites hard at the end when it comes as it must.
Sure some of the dialogue is a bit lacksadaisical and some of the women suffer appalling characterisation (with the exception of Jennifer Connelly as Marsh's wife) but the heart of Only The Brave means it lingers long after the film's finished (even if the deliberately cynical coda cloys at you).
The low-key reverence in which the film holds its fallen is evident at the end, but the perfectly-paced journey via the mens' sincerity means that Only The Brave gives you relatability and some truly gut-wrenching moments of moving pain when it all ends.
Against all the odds, and with everything screaming unoriginality in this tale, Only The Brave manages to make you care terrifically about those caught up in this Arizona nightmare - it's the film's smartest strength and its strongest reminder of the power of the ordinary man.