Plot: What’s it about?
While I didn’t see any trailers in theaters for it, the TV ads for Only the Brave did make me smirk a bit. It wasn’t so much the content (which isn’t the least bit amusing), but rather the way it sold it as something of an action flick featuring a bunch of firefighters. It had the voiceover stating the full title of the film Only the Brave: The story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. It didn’t look like a film I’d rush out to see, but then the glowing reviews started pouring in. I’m a fan of Miles Teller who is one of the many familiar faces you’ll see here, so that was definitely a positive as well. There was a sneak preview the week or so before the film got its wide release. I knew nothing of the true story the film is based on going into the film. Some reviews touched on the emotional impact the film had, so I had a slight clue of what might happen, but not to the extent of the final film. Needless to say, you may want to keep some tissues handy. It’s also another strong acting showcase for Teller who had two good, but underrated films last year. The other being Thank You for Your Service. Looking back, I wonder why Only the Brave didn’t do better in theaters. The RT score is currently at 88%. Maybe those who stayed away weren’t turned on by the ads for the film, which as I mentioned, weren’t great. Regardless, hopefully it finds a new life at Home Video.
Some may be familiar with the true story behind the film while others might not. It will be hard to review this without spoiling some details, but I feel the film works best if you go in fresh. Those more curious ahead of time can always search it on their own. Teller plays Brendan “Donut” McDonough. He’s the new trainee that Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) decides to take on. Marsh is the veteran firefighter who has city clearance for him and his crew to become certified as “Hotshots”. Brendan is a recovering addict who is kicked out of his home by his mother and struggling for direction with his life. Marsh sees his dedication even if other members of his crew don’t. We meet several other members of Marsh’s unit and a lot of time is spent early on focusing on their training. Jennifer Connelly plays Amanda, she is married to Marsh and the two seem to have a strong relationship. Jeff Bridges also has a supporting role here as Duane Steinbrink. He’s on Marsh’s side and helps him get the clearance he needs to have his team become certified. There is a lot of terminology here that was rather foreign to me (or likely anyone with no firefighter knowledge), but that didn’t stop my enjoyment of this film. A lot of time is spent with the men as they train vigorously to be prepared for when they’re needed. I can honestly say becoming a firefighter was never a dream of mine, but I do have a strong respect for them, perhaps even stronger after viewing this film.
There will likely be some who find parts of the story familiar, but it’s so well made and sincere that we forgive it. The attention to the time, especially in the first half of the film is all the more understandable when we get to the emotional climax. The last film I recall dealing with firefighters that got me this teary eyed was Ladder 49 and I think it’s because it put such strong emphasis on the characters that we cared about the outcome. There’s plenty of action on display, but it would mean nothing if we weren’t invested in the characters. It was overlooked in theaters, but Only the Brave is definitely worth checking out. You could see how this might’ve been mishandled in lesser hands, but the story is emotional and respectful to the real life characters it depicts.
Video: How’s it look?
Sony is pretty reliable in delivering top notch transfers, and this continues that trend. Details are strong and evident early on. The film has many wide shots with the beautiful mountains seen in the background and nature itself. These typically lend themselves to the HD format nicely and that’s the case here. Details on faces, textures on clothing and other such things are nicely defined. Colors are even with no serious flaws depicted. The image is AVC encoded with a 2.39:1 ratio which helps really give us all the beautiful details we’ve come to expect.
Audio: How’s it sound?
We get a DTS HD track that does justice to the film as well. Vocals are fine and all, but it’s the action sequences that’ll put your system to work. We can really sense the strong range as we often feel as surrounded as the characters by the blaze. It adds to the overall atmosphere the film creates. All this adds up to a satisfying track.v
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – Director Joseph Kosinski and Actor Josh Brolin sit down for a solid chat. No stone is unturned as they talk about the true story, specifics about the shoot and other issues. It’s well worth a listen.
- Boot Camp: Becoming a Hotshot – This focuses largely on the training the actors went through. It’s worth checking out.
- Deleted Scenes – Only two brief scenes appear, though, like most, were wisely deleted.
- Honoring the Heroes: The True Stories – We hear from the cast and crew as they reflect on the characters they play and the real life heroes.
- Behind the Brotherhood: The Characters – In this feature, we learn about the characters and how the actors wanted to get things right and be respectful to the real life characters they play.
- Behind the Song: Hold the Light – This is a short feature about the music video by Dierks Bentley seen here and featured in the film.
- Music Video “Hold the Light” by Dierks Bentley.
- Previews – Other Sony titles are featured.
The Bottom Line
Applauded by critics, but largely ignored by audiences during its theatrical run, hopefully Only the Brave garners the attention it deserves. It’s an emotional and powerful film filled with great performances by all. It may lack strong replay value, but it’s definitely worth seeing once. It’s a film that will likely resonate with you after it’s over. Recommended.