As well as being a humanitarian story, Only the Brave is a fantastic reminder to screenwriters that you don’t have to always adapt films from popular novels. The idea for Only the Brave was derived from a GQ article, this is great motivation for screenwriters as it shows that film premises can come from any form of media or art and Only the Brave is no exception to a great story.
At time in history it has been difficult to piece together a great humanitarian story as the cons massively outweigh the pros. Yes, basing your film on a true story is a fantastic way for the audience to have a bigger emotional response to the film, however, not giving enough respect the characters who’s stories you are telling can become a massive backfire in the films critical and overall reception. Thankfully, Only the Brave managed to respect the people it is telling of by portraying them not as individuals but as a brotherhood.
These firefighters are practically like family in the way they laugh, taunt and care for each other and to create this brotherhood whilst leaving no character left in the dirt is very well written. However, there are two stand out characters which coincidentally are also played by the two stand out actors in this film, Josh Brolin and Miles Teller. What is great about these characters is their parallel character arcs. The film takes the time to show the level of work these men have to put themselves through and also how that work affects their time with their families. Eric Marsh (Brolin) and Brenden McDonough, sometimes called donut (Teller), show each side of how this can affect someone.
Brenden does have the slightly better character arc as he begins as an irresponsible man who joins the Granite Mountain hotshots to provide for his just born child. He is treated as an outcast at first but as the film progresses he starts to be accepted by the other firefighters and we see him put more effort to becoming a father. Eric Marsh has the opposite effect as he feels like his crew is looked over and with his experience wants to be fighting wildfires on the front line, this leads to strains in his relationship with his wife (Jennifer Connelly). I haven’t grown attached to a band of people in a film in a long time. You would have to go back to films like Saving Private Ryan or Stand by Me to find a group of people who audiences would feel so connected with. I’d even say that something about this film makes it feel like a real working mans film, it draws a connection and comparison by those working in manual labour, I would certainly show this film to inspire teamwork.
There is a tendency is these humanitarian stories that people can pick up the tiniest sense of patriotism. Now I’m not saying that patriotism is a bad thing, how much a director relies on the patriot undertones can make or break how a film is received, however I’m not too big of a fan when a film is completely dependent on it, directors like Oliver Stone have tested me on this. Thankfully, Only the Brave is not dependent on patriotism and what’s more is that the film doesn’t feel as though it is counting on the consumer appeal of being a true story.
It can be argued that Joseph Kosinski follows the same style of story presentation as that of Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon or Patriots Day, however those film’s stories are guided by the tragedy, Only the Brave is guided by the people. With that being said, if you are expecting something like Deepwater Horizon, you may not have the greatest experience watching this. Your time watching this would be taking over by the voice in your head questioning when something bad will happen when the film isn’t dominated by this kind of event in the first place.
As for the actual firefighting scenes, some audiences will expect a lot of hand on, intense firefighting action. Giant flames surrounded the team as the attempt to claw to safety, well no. the portrayal of wildfire is quite tame as they are mostly seen in the background to show the scale, however we never really experience the intensity. There is a boundary that could be crossed that dive into the action genre, but with the films slow pacing, this line doesn’t have to be crossed and you can still grab interesting shots.
If you’re looking for a disaster type movie in Only the Brave you may want to save your money, but for those of us who want a great true story with a band of brothers to feel emotionally connected to, great character arcs and that can offer us the reality of firefighting, Only the Brave will be able to tick off your checklist. I enjoyed the ride this film had to offer and although Joseph Kosinski has only directed three feature lengths (including this) its safe to say that offer could be knocking on the door for him after this impressive story.