Archive for October, 2017

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When a movie about a crew of wildland firefighters tells you that it’s “based on true events,” you can pretty well guess that things aren’t going to end well. So it is with “Only The Brave,” an effectively moving but narratively thin telling of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who battled the deadly Yarnell Fire in 2013.

While a sense of foreboding hovers over the movie, writer Sean Flynn and director Joseph Kosinski wisely avoid framing the plot as a collision course with tragedy. It focuses instead on the members of the hotshot crew, investing the bulk of the film’s running time on their personal lives and training.

The result is a much more human and reverential story, compared to similar films that telegraph their third-act disasters early and make, sacrificial offerings of their protagonists.

But “Only the Brave” swings a little too far in it’s human focus, leaving too little time for the Yarnell Fire and robbing its Big Bad blaze of narrative heft. So while it presents a touching tribute to the real life men who lost their lives, its also anticlimactic. When the hotshot crew finally comes face-to-face with destiny, the closing credits aren’t far behind.

By way of summary, James Brolin plays Eric Marsh, superintendent of the Prescott Fire Department’s wildland fire crew, who — when we meet them — are working toward Hotshot status, a designation that would put them on the front lines of major burns. After slots on his team open up, he takes a chance on Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a junkie burnout looking to turn his life around after the birth of his daughter.

There is interpersonal drama sprinkled throughout, including marital troubles for Marsh and his wife (played by Jennifer Connelly) and resistance-turned-comraderie that McDonough experiences as he proves himself in a series of training and firefighting sequences. The real priority is memorializing the men of the Granite Mountain  Hotshots before the third-Act blaze.

Kosinski is perhaps better known for sense of visuals than his mastery of storytelling (he directed Oblivion and the poorly-received but eye-popping Tron: Legacy) and his fire photography here feels like a missed opportunity. It’s a more down-to-earth plot than his previous work, but the raging infernos on screen are robbed of urgency and menace by Kosinski’s realistic approach.

“Only the Brave” has many winning components for a tale of ordinary men battling the threat of nature. But it misses opportunities to lean into its strengths, offering something like the film equivalent of a memorial plaque: moving, informational, and stiff.

Grade: B-

“Only the Brave” opens nationwide on Friday, October 20.

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