Wednesday, November 01, 2017
Only the Brave
ONLY THE BRAVE (Joseph Kosinski, 2017)
In ONLY THE BRAVE Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) oversees a unit within the Prescott, Arizona Fire Department that fights wildfires, but because they are not certified at the highest level, they are relegated to tasks he feels the team is overqualified for. With the help of the department’s Duane Stinebrink (Jeff Bridges), Eric gets his chance to get the team to the level of hotshots. He also convinces the mayor that as hotshots they'll earn more for hire to other communities than it costs to maintain the team. Among the firefighters is Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a burnout who says he’s determined to turn around his life after fathering a daughter.
ONLY THE BRAVE holds up the honor and dignity of a group working tirelessly and selflessly toward a common cause. Although the men may carry themselves with a certain swagger, the danger in what they do is always apparent to them and the loved ones worrying as they rush off to stop a big conflagration. While Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Springer’s screenplay holds these men up as heroes, it doesn’t do so at the expense of portraying their flaws and the tensions among them. These guys must rely on each other, but the personality clashes and self-destructive behaviors that exist in every team are just as visible here. Such a large crew can make it difficult to get to know all of them beyond a defining trait or two, which is why Marsh, McDonough, and Taylor Kitsch’s Chris MacKenzie, the wilder spirit in this bunch, receive the majority of the focus. Still, ONLY THE BRAVE does well at providing glimpses of those who are no less important than the ones who dominate the story.
Director Joseph Kosinski shoots the firefighting scene with attention to the technical requirements and strategy involved in taming the flames gobbling up the land before they reach homes. The hotshots literally fight fire with fire, which sounds counterintuitive but proves to be a remarkably effective approach as long as the situation has been properly assessed. ONLY THE BRAVE houses deep respect for the people who do this work, and in explaining how they achieve positive results, it honors all those whose accumulated knowledge and losses allow for such remarkable achievements now.
It’s fair to assume that a film about civic protectors probably contains its share of tragedy. ONLY THE BRAVE fits into the tradition of memorialization for such people. Rather than doing so with a plaque, the moving images, in the literal and metaphorical senses, depict what some are willing to risk for the safety of all. Kosinski handles the inevitable scene of informing loved ones about deaths on the job with delicacy and power combining the joy and jealousy for those who survived and anger and sorrow on the part of those who don’t come home. There can be a tendency for empty valorization of sacrifice, as though death in service makes it more acceptable while denying the impact that resonates through those left behind. ONLY THE BRAVE acknowledges the heroism but respects that all of the ringing words of praise can never make up for what is given.