[Screen It]


(2017) (Josh Brolin, Miles Teller) (PG-13)

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Drama: A team of firefighters strive to attain elite status, all while contending with the dangers of various wildfires they must battle.
Eric Marsh (JOSH BROLIN) is the superintendent of Fire Station 7 in Prescott, Arizona. He's a seasoned firefighter and seems to have an innate knowledge of how wildfires will behave, but he and his crew must often take the back seat to elite hotshot crews from other jurisdictions. Accordingly, he wants his team to achieve that same status and pushes fire chief Duane Steinbrink (JEFF BRIDGES) to make that happen. While those on his team look forward to the prospects of that, including Eric's number two man, Jesse Steed (JAMES BADGE DALE), Eric's wife, Amanda (JENNIFER CONNELLY), is less than thrilled. She already worries about his safety and time spent away from home, and a promotion to hotshot status would only exacerbate that.

One young man who wants in on the action is former deadbeat drug user Brendan McDonough (MILES TELLER) who's decided he must turn his life around now that he's fathered a baby with Natalie (NATALIE HALL), even if that young woman initially doesn't want him around. Nor does Station 7 member Christopher MacKenzie (TAYLOR KITSCH) who knows of Brendan's burnout past. As Brendan tries to prove his worth to him and the rest of the crew, Eric does what he can to get his seasoned veterans and green rookies ready to pass their hotshot evaluation, all while battling various wildfires, some of which grow into quick moving and very dangerous disasters.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Decades ago, my mom commented that the world would probably be a better place if police officers, firefighters, and teachers made the sort of money that rock stars, movie actors, and professional athletes made. You know what? She was right then and still to do this day especially as the salary differential between those two groups has become even greater.

Unfortunately, it's all about economics and performers generate lots of revenue for those holding the purse strings, while "all" cops and firefighters do is "just" keep us safe, while teachers "only" serve to educate young minds. Of course, that's said with more than all due respect to those folks who work long hours and often put their lives on the line for very little in return. Heck, most aren't recognized until after something bad happens and then it's often too late for the rest of us to express our gratitude.

All of which makes me always happy to see films such as "Only the Brave" come along. While there are more movies about or featuring cops than one can shake a stick at, firefighters haven't been as well represented cinematically. For every "Backdraft" or "The Towering Inferno" there are dozens if not hundreds of films featuring police officers, and some of the more well-known offerings about firefighters are romantic comedy films such as "Roxanne."

This one -- from director Joseph Kosinski and screenwriters Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer -- is based on the true-life exploits of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a wildfire firefighting team based in Arizona that made headlines battling the Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013. I won't go into what happened in real-life (as that would reveal what unfolds in the film), but their story as told here is engaging, heart-breaking, and makes you think about and be thankful for all of the firefighters working today and risking their lives battling huge blazes such as those occurring right now in California.

That real-life event certainly gives the story and its characters here some additional heft. At the same time, however, it might explain why I certainly felt an increased sense of worry about the characters, thinking at any moment something bad was going to happen to one or more of them (without remembering how the true-life story played out four years ago).

Among the likely suspects of facing the Grim Reaper is the team leader, Eric Marsh, played with believable gusto by Josh Brolin. While his innate ability to seemingly sense what any given fire is going to do (and even talking to it like it's an animalistic, sentient being) might seem like a Hollywood construct, I was fully engaged by Brolin's performance and figured his bravado -- coupled with having a somewhat rocky relationship with his wife (Jennifer Connelly) stemming from her part-worry, part-jealousy of his preoccupation with fires -- could mean his demise might be forthcoming.

Then there's the second chance character played terrifically by Miles Teller. When we first see him, he's dead-beat burn-out, inhaling from a pot bong and not caring that he's gotten a local girl pregnant. But when he gets busted for stealing, his mom kicks him out of the house, and he finds himself a new father with a mother who sees him as an irresponsible sort with whom she wants no part, he decides to turn his life around by becoming a firefighter. Just when things seem to start going well, I felt myself cringing every time he headed out with the team.

Other possible victims include another firefighter (Taylor Kitsch) who initially doesn't like Teller's character, but ends up as his best friend, and James Badge Dale as the team's good-guy captain. At least Jeff Bridges as the fire chief and Andie MacDowell as his wife seem safe from certain catastrophe.

Until the big finale, things play out like you've probably seen in countless other "team" films where the gruff leader and his veterans bring on the green rookies, go through the equivalent of basic training, some "hazing" and then getting their feet wet, all while dealing with family matters back home.

Although there's nothing new with any of that, those in front of and behind the camera manage to make us care about the characters. In doing so, that ends up going a long way in delivering a gut-wrenching conclusion that will likely leave many a viewer emotionally spent (it did for me), all while making you want to thank the next firefighter you see for their service. Tech credits are sharp across the board, especially as related to realistically creating the fire scenes. All in all, it's a solid piece of engaging filmmaking where you'll end up probably more emotionally invested than you might have imagined. "Only the Brave" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 14, 2017 / Posted October 20, 2017

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