REVIEW: Only the Brave
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
By Christopher Spencer
Directed by Joseph Kosinski, Only the Brave stars Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Taylor Kitsch, James Badge Dale, Andie McDowell, and Jeff Bridges. Telling the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Firefighters operating out of Prescott, Arizona, we see the lives of these 20 men from rookie beginnings, up to the Yarnell Hill Fire of June 2013.
Joseph Kosinski made his directorial debut with 2010’s Tron: Legacy, which was visually resplendent yet narratively inept, following it up with the equally average Oblivion. Many critics (myself included) only saw him as a flashy sci-fi director from this. He is the complete opposite with Only the Brave, another “real American heroes” story like last year’s Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day.
Kosinski uses his visual talents at the right times to depict the devastating infernos that the Granite Mountain Hotshots face, mixing practical blazes with seamless CGI. These epic scenes in a movie about firefighting are only few, as Only the Brave is really about the home lives of these men and how this dangerous job affects families.
We have a strong ensemble on display, with central characters realised in deft performances of the highest calibre. Brolin and Teller carry most of the movie in complex roles that ask questions about dedication and masculinity in the fact of such natural hell, and Connelly, Kitsch and Bridges shine in the right moments. Not everyone is given their full due, but the Hotshot crew do feel like brothers-in-arms at all times.
Claudio Miranda’s cinematography is awe-inspiring, utilising lighting and shot composition like any great DP should. In the slower, more dialogue-driven moments, Miranda manages to capture the harsh, washed-out landscapes of Arizonan desert or stark shadows of Southern nights as expertly as Giles Nuttgens in Hell or High Water.
Kosinski shows an almost expert level of emotional maturity and dramatic integrity in the direction of what is easily his best movie. Those tough scenes of families dealing with tragedy or men facing the worst that nature can offer move with appropriate weight and land Kosinski in a field of worthy respect.
The fact that most of Only the Brave is just talking about the job or learning how to fight fires can feel slow and repetitive, with the movie taking its sweet time to really hit its stride of meaning and heart. Kosinski breaks the plot up with those powerful firefighting sequences, but the narrative does feel drawn out and that whole first act feels oddly unnecessary.
Only the Brave is still a powerful movie when it needs to be, and ends on a sombre yet highly inspiring note that does right by these real American heroes. Only the Brave might be the best firefighting movie I’ve ever seen thanks to those strong performances from Brolin and Teller, excellent cinematography, and all around solid direction.