Only the Brave
dir Joseph Kosinski
scr Ken Nolan, Eric Warren Singer
prd Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Erik Howsam, Thad Luckinbill, Trent Luckinbill, Michael Menchel, Dawn Ostroff, Molly Smith, Jeremy Steckler
with Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Andie MacDowell, Geoff Stults, Alex Russell, Thad Luckinbill, Ben Hardy, Scott Haze
release US 20.Oct.17, UK 10.Nov.17
17/US 2h14
Only the Brave
Hold the line: Teller and Kitsch

brolin connelly bridges
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Only the Brave The only surprise in this relentless display of rah-rah machismo heroism is that it wasn't concocted by Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg. Based on a powerful true story, it's carefully concocted to be relentlessly inspiring. At least it has a cast that's strong enough to sell some subtle moments along the way. And the momentous events can't help but generate strong emotions.

In Prescott, Arizona, Eric (Brolin) is trying to get his team of hard-working firefighters certified as the first private hotshot crew in America, officially qualified to battle wildfires. Chief Duane (Bridges) is helping make this happen, while Eric's wife Amanda (Connelly) knows it means she'll see even less of her husband. The crew includes loyal captain Jesse (Dale), womaniser Mac (Kitsch) and recovering addict Brendan (Teller), who's been given a chance because Eric sees something of himself in him. Then as they're certified, they take on a series of menacing fires.

Reverent awe is the general tone here, which means that the film never feels terribly authentic. Each scene is designed to give the audience a taste of who these men were and how they worked together, cutting between family lives and rather dull details of containing wildfires. This kind of undermines any sense of narrative momentum, making these men look like overgrown Boy Scouts grappling with work-life balance, just like everyone does. Except that these are clearly Heroes with a capital H.

Thankfully, the actors resist playing that up, digging beneath the exhausting superficial manliness. Brolin is a sturdy leader struggling to be a good husband, while Connelly shows some steely spark. Bridges is effortlessly cool, while Kitsch provides witty energy as a charming rogue. Teller has the strongest role as a troubled young man trying to get on track. Other characters each have key moments, but never quite take root.

The film hinges on the two mentor relationships - Duane with Eric, Eric with Brendan - in a rather forced effort to emphasise a legacy. And while director Kosinski avoids rushing into action mayhem (the fires are well rendered), he also neglects to convey the sense that these are normal guys in a difficult job. Instead, the film is a nonstop parade of jolly tough-guy camaraderie and perilous firefighting anecdotes. It's an eye-opening look at this vocation, but films that try this hard to be inspirational rarely are.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 7.Nov.17

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