Only the Brave: A Slow Burn … To Mediocrity

Only the Brave Plot Summary:

Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.  As Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) and his crew aim to get certified as official hotshots who can actively engage fires, a drug addict (Miles Teller) attempts to turn his life around by joining the crew after learning he’s a dad, while Marsh comes to terms with the harsh realities of his job.

Within the first twenty minutes of Only the Brave, it was exactly the movie I thought it was going to be: Boring. Generic. Interchangeable characters. Cliché dialogue left and right.  There was even a point I was so disinterested that I briefly considered walking out. To make a long story short, the movie gets A LOT better. No pun intended, but it’s a slow burn. If you really stick with it, you will be rewarded. Having said that, it still can’t escape many of the problems it suffers in the first act. While this is a very likable movie that does hit you hard at the end, getting there was sloppy as hell.

The movie is too damn long. It doesn’t come close to justifying its 130+ minute runtime. If you want to make a movie about firefighters this long, you better have great characters to back it up. This has one and a half.

This movie reminded me a lot of Lone Survivor. The beginning is beyond dreadful. You get the typical bro talk between multiple characters, but they are all the same person. It’s about 5-6 people talking and acting like mannequins. I’m not going to remember their names. I don’t know who these actors are. I don’t care. If you haven’t noticed by now, interchangeable characters are a massive pet peeve of mine when it comes to film. Much like Lone Survivor though, it gets better, and heaven forbid, I actually started to care.

The main protagonist here is Eric Marsh, who plays the superintendent hotshot.  He was about as vanilla as everyone else. The scenes with his wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), were particularly rough. Their interactions were as flat as could be. You have two very talented actors here, but the screenwriters gave them meatballs.  

It takes about forty minutes for Brolin to get a pulse. You really start to see how passionate Marsh is about getting certified as a real hotshot firefighter. Instead of banal dialogue, he shows it in his actions. Now I’m all about this guy. He’s driven to the point of insanity, which in turn, makes his relationship with Connelly more interesting. We get to the obvious story points where Amanda needs Marsh to take a step back to focus on a family, and the two have it out. This is where you get emotionally invested.

While all the characters have a rough start, the one guy who always held the movie together from start to finish was my boy Miles Teller.  For the love of Whiplash, can somebody give this guy a great script! COME ON! The material was barely on the page, but Teller elevates it like only he can. It’s the classic character arc of being a complete burn out, becoming a dad, and now he has to get clean and prove himself. Standard, but effective.  Teller is the true heart of this film.

Other than Brolin and Teller, all the other firefighters are completely forgettable and just bodies on the screen. James Badge Dale plays Marsh’s right hand man and has absolutely no personality whatsoever. Ben Hardy was apparently in this movie as well. I don’t know.  The only other actor who gave a worthy performance was Taylor Kitsch, but this is only because he develops a good bond with Miles Teller, otherwise he would have gone unnoticed.  

This movie needed to take a cue from Miracle. I know the subject matter is very different, but even with a big hockey team, you got a sense of who a lot of those background characters were, even if some had bigger roles than others. I’ll give Only the Brave some credit though, as I bought into their camaraderie late in the picture.

This movie also suffers from an extreme lack of conflict. Even though the second half is perfectly enjoyable, there isn’t a lot of drama here. There isn’t as much firefighting as you’d expect, and most of it is just watching these guys get along and doing a good job.  That’s really it. Occasionally a few spats between Brolin and Connelly pop up, but they always felt oddly timed. The movie has a bad pace. You know something really bad is going to happen at the end, and you’re just waiting to get there.

Despite a fairly anti-climactic ending, it does hit you hard. The last ten minutes are gripping as hell. Miles Teller has one acting moment that absolutely rips through your body.  It’s devastating. And even though any actor could have played Jeff Bridges’ role, he basically got hired for one scene. It’s just a simple reaction while he’s driving, but this had to be Bridges. Quick side note – Jeff Bridges doesn’t have a beard in this movie. That freaked me out.

The film definitely has moments. I’d recommend seeing it on VOD, but I just can’t justify paying to see this in the theater. It’s just too darn long. The story it’s based on definitely tugs at your heartstrings, which is frustrating, because a great movie absolutely could have been made here. This should have been one single event where these guys fight one fire throughout the whole movie. Instead, it tries to pack in bland, mediocre drama that is way too cluttered.  

There’s a lot of effort here, but I have no choice but to put the dreaded mediocre tag on it.

Rating: 6 out of 10 (“Meh”)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.