The words “Based on a true story” are doing a lot of heavy lifting in this firefighter drama. On its own merits, Only The Brave is a solid, extremely well cast story of small-town heroism, without much to make it more than ‘watchable’. It’s the sort of film you might very happily watch on a plane, or when you happened upon it while flicking through the channels on a Sunday night, but it doesn’t offer a lot to send you running for the cinema. That truth element, though, does give it something more, a little extra poignancy. Even if the characters offered here aren’t riveting, you know they were flesh and blood humans who put their lives on the line, and in many cases lost them. It lends it some automatic gravitas.
The real-life men were the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of firefighters who battled wild forest fires in Arizona, risking their own lives to save entire towns. Whatever they were like in real life, here they’re a gaggle of genre clichés. Josh Brolin is the stern but loving crew chief who’ll do anything for his boys. Miles Teller is the ex-junkie who tries to mend his ways when he becomes a dad and learns the value of personal responsibility. Taylor Kitsch is a player who finally finds the right gal. They’re sweet together and entirely predictable in where their stories go. It’s a fine cast, but director Joseph Kosinski allows them a lot of actorly tics. Nobody is underplaying here. They spit, twitch, talk to themselves, chew on overdone accents (looking at you, Jeff Bridges). It’s Acting with a capital A.
Comparatively, the action elements are underplayed and we lack a good look at why the Hotshots are considered the best in the business. We’re told repeatedly that they are, but when we see them at work it’s mainly digging trenches and burning shrubs. Kosinski never fully brings us into this gang and makes us feel what they’re up against. That these men have a story worth telling is undeniable, but it’s debatable whether a cinema screen, rather than the page, is the right place for it.
- Release Date: 10 November, 2017