The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Only the Brave

Only the Brave might be the best movie ever made about firefighters. Granted, there aren't that many. You've got Backdraft, Ladder 49, the old John Wayne flick Hellfighters, and not a whole lot else. Maybe Planes: Fire & Rescue if you want to throw a kids' movie in there. That should in no way diminish the accomplishments of this film, which was directed by Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy). It does exactly what a movie about firefighters should do: give you an appreciation for the heroism of those who perform the job, while also providing enough personal drama to enhance the requisite scenes of peril.

Based on a true story, the subject is the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of determined men who are trained to fight wildfires without water. They go into dangerous places to dig trenches, burn off brush, and do other things designed to prevent the flames from spreading to populated areas. Josh Brolin plays Eric Marsh, the hard-nosed leader of the group. His wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) supports what he does, but also wants to start a family.

Miles Teller plays Brendan McDonough, a lazy stoner who gets a girl pregnant, then decides it might be time to grow up. He joins the team, hoping to prove to everyone, especially himself, that he can be responsible. Other prominent characters are Eric's right-hand man, Jesse Steed (James Badge Dale), and Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges), the veteran fire chief who serves as a mentor to Eric.

Written by Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle), Only the Brave develops its main characters and their individual stories meaningfully. We get a sense of who they are not just as firefighters, but as people. Their hopes, dreams, and struggles are laid out in an identifiable way. Both Eric and Brendan, we learn, are using the job as a means of lifting themselves out of bad circumstances. They know that the discipline of it can help them become better men.

Because we understand who these guys are, the firefighting scenes carry more weight. The film is specific in showing the techniques used to control or halt wildfires. That in itself is compelling. Watching people we've come to care about march into a potential life-or-death situation to perform those duties proves harrowing. Obviously, huge sections of land were not set on fire for the purposes of the movie, yet the imagery is impressively realistic. Such authenticity ensures that you get completely swept up in the sequences where Eric, Brendan, and the others go to work.

Brolin and Teller are superb. Both actors embody their respective characters so fully that it's easy to forget you're watching two recognizable stars. That proves indispensable as the story reaches its dramatic climax, in which the Hotshots face the biggest fire they've ever seen. The other real standout is Jennifer Connelly. Blessedly, the screenplay manages to avoid the WWBH (Worried Wife Back Home) cliches, giving the actress a chance to make Amanda every bit Eric's equal. Connelly runs with it, bringing the kind of fierceness that would certainly be required for a woman whose husband's life is in danger whenever he walks out the door.

There are a couple small moments where Only the Brave teeters ever so slightly on melodrama. By and large, though, it's an admiring tribute to the Granite Mountain Hotshots, who risked it all to keep others as safe as possible. Their story is told with sincerity, and you walk away touched by how much they sacrificed.

( 1/2 out of four)

Only the Brave is rated PG-13 for thematic content, some sexual references, language and drug material. The running time is 2 hours and 14 minutes.

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