Only the Brave

Review by Elena Lazic @elazic

Directed by

Joseph Kosinski

Starring

Josh Brolin Miles Teller Taylor Kitsch

Anticipation.

Perhaps this seeming display of masculinity will provide a few laughs?

Enjoyment.

Long, tedious and not much fun at all. The ending is good though.

In Retrospect.

Where’s Peter Berg when you need him?

Miles Teller is the standout performer in this overly macho tale of an elite mountain firefighter crew.

As the title suggests, Only the Brave is a film powered by machismo and patriotism. Throughout his career Peter Berg has proved a master of making the most ardent American patriotism appear understandable, realistic and appealing even to non-American viewers. But unlike Berg’s Patriots Day or Deepwater Horizon, Joseph Kosinski’s Only the Brave spends not a single minute of its long runtime trying to convince us of the righteousness of being a man’s man. Rather, the film assumes that we already endorse this particular model of masculinity, in which physical strength is somehow equivalent to moral fortitude.

Considering that the main characters are a crew of elite firefighters – who go into the mountains lightly equipped to control the spread of wildfires – it is completely understandable that these men should be in optimum physical shape. Similarly, one can understand that the stress of the job and the need to rely on each other in life-or-death situations encourages very close bonds between colleagues.

Yet the film is extremely anxious to deflect even the slightest hint of feminine or homosexual overtones in the characters’ self-care routines and close male relationships. Any sequence of physical training or simple conversation between the men is accompanied with banter of such ridiculous intensity, it all but undermines the seriousness of what is, after all, the true story of a tragedy.

Only through Miles Teller’s character are we given a realistic understanding of the peculiar lifestyle of mountain firefighters. His Brendan McDonough starts the film as a failure. A drunkard without a job, he learns only through a friend that his ex-girlfriend is pregnant with his baby. This is just the wake-up call he needs. Despite not having the prior experience or physical attributes required, McDonough signs up to join the fire crew led by Eric Marsh (a heavily mustachioed Josh Brolin). Teller’s subtle acting and delivery of often rather blunt dialogue is what saves his character from being just another cliché in a film ridden with them.

The same cannot be said of Brolin. Many of the scenes her shares with Jennifer Connelly, playing his unhappy wife, are only salvaged by the reliably excellent Jeff Bridges. Although he only appears in a minor role as Marsh’s best friend, the veteran actor provides most of the film’s emotional truth. With much of the film focusing on unconvincing characters and anxious displays of male bravado, the emotion impact of the final act comes as a surprise. The ending is filled with such bleakness and unexpected violence that it feels like it belongs in another, better film. But it’s not enough to justify the film’s exhausting length or the mediocrity of what comes before it.

Published 8 Nov 2017

Tags: Josh Brolin Miles Teller Taylor Kitsch

Anticipation.

Perhaps this seeming display of masculinity will provide a few laughs?

Enjoyment.

Long, tedious and not much fun at all. The ending is good though.

In Retrospect.

Where’s Peter Berg when you need him?

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