January 28, 2018

DVD Review: ONLY THE BRAVE (2017)

Starring Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, Andie MacDowell, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Natalie Hall. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. (2017, 134 min).

Can a movie be too timely? Only the Brave's lackluster box office performance might suggest so.

After all, it's a solid slab of dramatic storytelling, the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a close-knit group of Arizona firefighters who become heroes after saving their hometown from a rampant wildfire. Most of them ultimately end up losing their lives battling the Yarnell Hill Fire (not a spoiler, folks...it was all over the news).

Much of the narrative focuses on Eric "Supe" Marsh (Josh Brolin), the crew's headstrong leader, and troubled recruit "Donut" McDonough (Miles Teller), who struggles with drug addiction and has a checkered past. Through the course of the story, Marsh feels compelled to mentor Donut and give him a chance to prove his worth when no one else will, mainly because the two share more common ground than we're initially led to believe. Other than Marsh's wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), we don't learn a hell of a lot about anyone else, which is arguably the film's biggest shortcoming. The harrowing final act and denouement would have had a lot more emotional impact if there was more of an ensemble approach to the characters.

"Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho..."
Still, Only the Brave tells an interesting story and Brolin has seldom been more likable, while Teller does commendable job with his character's transformation from self-absorbed loser to loving father and trusted crew member. While the rest are basically just names & faces (though Taylor Kitsch has some amusing moments), the film pays a fitting tribute to them. They're dropped into firefighting sequences are suitably spectacular, harrowing and completely convincing. At no time do we feel like we're simply watching special effects.

Jeff Bridges: Chick magnet.
Only the Brave is another fine entry in the recent flux of "disaster" movies based on real events. But unlike Sully or Deepwater Horizon, which did respectable business, this one undeservedly struggled to find an audience. Perhaps it was the timing. One of the more distressing ongoing American news events that didn't involve the GOP or sexual harassment were the massive wildfires that raged for months all over the country, destroying millions of acres. In my neck of the woods, the sky was a constant yellow haze and smoke hung in the air for weeks. Venturing to a theater to experience the same thing might not have been most people's idea of a good time. Maybe I'm just blowing smoke (no pun intended), but I can't think of any other reason this film tanked at the box office while similar ones didn't.

Tragically overlooked in theaters, Only the Brave certainly deserves to find an audience on home video. Skillfully directed, visually impressive and featuring solid performances, the film is an affectionate, respectful tribute to a brave batch of young men.

FEATURETTES: "Honoring the Heroes: The True Stories"; "Behind the Brotherhood: The Characters"; "Boot Camp: Becoming a Hotshot"
MUSIC VIDEO: "Hold the Light" by Dierks Bentley w/ S. Carey
AUDIO COMMENTARY - With Director Joeseph Kosinski & Josh Brolin

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