For all of cinema’s greatest villains and adversaries, few are more terrifying and as unpredictable as Mother Nature. There’s no remorse, no warning, and no end to the devastation caused – and it’s this very antagonist that makes Only the Brave a compelling piece of cinema, as we watch the tragic true story of the wildfire in Yarnell – and the collective of brave men who tried to stop it.
Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) heads up the elite crew of firefighters who work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the safety of the American public. He’s married to his job – much to the frustration of his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), and he risks his life on a daily basis. He’s not alone either, for he’s joined by a loyal team, consisting of the likes of Christopher (Taylor Kitsch), Jesse (James Badge Dale) and new recruit Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller). The latter is a former drug addict and now a new father, wanting nothing more than to turn his life around, but out in the field it’s a life he can’t even guarantee keeping.
Also starring Jeff Bridges as Duane Steinbrink,this Joseph Kosinski endeavour has been masterfully structured, as we seamlessly move between different, entwined character stories. It’s not an easy task to have such a myriad of characters and expect the audience to invest in their respective tales, but we’re fed just enough to make sure that we can, and root for each of their survival. It’s a triumphant balancing act, and one that maximises our emotional engagement – which by the close of play, is something of a requirement.
What also helps bridge this bond between the viewer and the firefighters is the authentic display of camaraderie amongst the collective, for we believe in their friendships, which is a vital aspect of this narrative. The performances are impressive too, Brolin so brilliant as a leader, with such an authoritative nature, with something so deeply trusting about his demeanour. Teller is equally brilliant, in quite the opposite direction, for we believe in him as an addict; he’s somewhat erratic, with this look in his eyes during the opening scenes of someone who has simply given up on life, and himself. But we get a sense for his steely determination as he strives to get himself back on track, and yet he always has this vulnerability about him. With performances like this you buy into the story, and that can only be a good thing.
That being said, the film does get overtly sentimental in parts, and while the story is deserving of emotion, it’s a little overbearing at times, and unsubtle in its execution. Tonally the film is akin to Peter Berg’s latest cinematic endeavours, not too far removed from the likes of Patriot’s Day and Deepwater Horizon – which, to be fair, is not exactly a bad thing.
Only the Brave is released on November 10th.