ONLY THE BRAVE gets 6.5/10 Heroic hotshots

Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Starring Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Andie MacDowell

6.5/10

Biographical disaster films are experiencing a resurgence in cinema lately. They can be completely mesmerising and inspiring (see: Sully) or a blunt tool aimed at yanking on heartstrings in the most precise, deliberate and transparent fashion. In the case of Only the Brave, why not both? Between some utterly enthralling, chair gripping CGI fire storms and the expected moments glorifying the endurance of the human spirit against all odds, sadly Only the Brave takes their token of a fiery charging bear a little too literally, as it ultimately represents this full throttle celebration of toxic masculinity to its toasty conclusion. Think Top Gun with fire fighting, and you’re there.

A promising back story of an inspiring fire fighting crew, the Granite Mountain Hotshots, and their courageous but tragic battle against the Yarnell Hill Fire of 2013 in Arizona, is clearly going to end in tears. It is dedicated to their memory, after all. That piece of information alone is no spoiler, but gives some indication of what’s to come.

The word ‘hotshots’ is not some macho colloquialism. This is the title bestowed upon the most elite of fire fighters who are on the front line against forest fires, the best of the best. While our heroes are initially merely a secondary squad derided by hotshot crews, they aspire to be greater, and led by their swarthy leader, Eric “Supe” Marsh (a brilliant turn by Josh Brolin), the group of men experience a number of setbacks on their way to fire fighting greatness. Unfortunately, the journey to their historical certification as the first municipal fire fighting  squad is clunky at best and explained poorly, despite some dramatic interludes and displays of machismo by our hero, Supe.

It is the celebration of mateship and some pretty toxic masculinity which is the ultimate undoing of the film. Audiences have seen this too many times. It’s been done to death, and we need something new and more endearing to make us love your overwrought characterisations. Back slapping, chest beating, muscle flexing and comparing who they’ve had sex with in the most lowbrow, Neanderthal of ways has no place in 2017. It’s downright boring, and we deserve better in character builds, particularly when so much time is overly dedicated to explaining who these men are as individuals and a team.

The saving grace is the relationship between the apparently icy Supe and his new recruit, recovering drug addict Brendan McDonough (the undeniably talented Miles Teller). The tale of redemption and salvation is nothing new, but is told with love and care, while unfortunately leaving audiences guessing at some gaping holes that could be filled so easily by some more care with editing a 134 minute film.

The second act positively limps along, which is a shame as there are some truly wonderful plot points that could have been expanded upon but were clearly skipped in favour of overwrought dissections of how a fire fighting crew works.

Jeff Bridges is at his best in some time, returning to form as the gruff but loveable cad with a heart of gold. His displays of heartbreaking vulnerability during a crisis is a blessed reprieve, both from his recent typecasting and the aforementioned chest beating.

Both Jennifer Connelly and Andie MacDowell are wasted talents, under utilised in their roles as concerned, unhappy or nagging wives. This role pervades throughout for all women characters, whereby their sole purposes are to serve as nothing more than a vehicle for propping up the male heroes.

Kosinski’s talents are best served by orchestrating sweeping, magnificent CGI scenes, which is utilised brilliantly in the final scenes as audiences are drawn into the terror of the fire storm and its horrific result. A little editing finesse is what was required to trim down this promising storyline into something a little less exhausting to sit through.

NATALIE GILES

 

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