Released: 10th November 2017
Directed By: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Miles Teller, Josh Brolin
Reviewed By: Van Connor
It’s Backdraft for the Lone Survivor generation as Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski skips his usual sense of spectacle and takes his own crack at a Peter Berg picture. In keeping with the Berg sensibility, Only the Brave more than lives up to the usual sensation of “phwoar – real American heroes!”, but in the hands of both Kosinski and writers Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, there’s more than enough knowingly lantern-jawed fun to give it some much-needed spark.
The true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, Only the Brave chronicles the outfit’s rise from municipal fire unit to full-blown federally-certified wildfire team – a team tasked with getting ahead of forest fires and removing their “fuel” by chopping down sections of the forest and destroying them in smaller controlled fires. As much about the men and their lives as it is their mission, the story sees the team quickly establish a name for themselves in a literal trial by fire, until the day comes that will bring them face to face with the fire that will forever secure their place in firefighting history.
Those even vaguely aware of the Granite Mountain team will naturally have a sense of just where this tale’s likely headed, and, even in that circumstance, Only the Brave brings enough charisma and distinct personality to at least keep it interesting and suspenseful. It’s no Backdraft, sure, but it’s a step above Ladder 49 at any rate, and Kosinski hones his craft here to ensure that – while there’s never a lack of impressive fire-fighting set pieces, his movie is focused entirely on the men who populate it.
Those men, as it happens, are brought to life by a pretty engaging crop of talent. Josh Brolin proves a solid enough performer to overcome a wealth of cumbersome cliches as squad leader Marsh, Miles Teller takes on some almost meta-casting as a brattish and arrogant recruit in dire need of seasoning, and Taylor Kitsch makes for an endearing womaniser-turned-heart of the group. Meanwhile, James Badge Dale shows up to play in the only way he knows how – as this movie’s James Badge Dale – and if there’s any other actor in the world besides Jeff Bridges who can make the line “if you want sympathy, you’ll find it in the dictionary between s**t and syphilis” work, well, we’ve yet to discover him.
It’s a boys-own underdog tale with some date movie charm, a fiery brothers-in-arms tale that puts Berg to shame and proves there’s serious room for the occasional smile in a gritty and grounded true story feature such as this. Only the Brave’s not going to wow the more discerning high-brow audience members, admittedly, but it’ll win over more than a few multiplex crowds with the ash-covered wink it throws them here and there.