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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Only the Brave movie review: the men who tame wildfires

Only the Brave green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Familiar in its overall storytelling arcs about risktaking and redemption, but also a sincere tribute to our new firefighting heroes for a warmer planet.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have read the source material (though only after I’d seen the movie) (and I am indifferent about it)
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

New heroes for a hotter, more fiery planet? Could be. Elite firefighter “hotshots” are the guys who helicopter or hike into wildfires and break them, saving not just a house or two but entire towns, and also wildlife and nature, too. (They literally call themselves hotshots, and it’s tough to snort at this macho boasting because they’re so genuinely badass but also so beneficial, with no downsides. Their important work does not require, say, hurting or killing other people, like soldiering or policing can.) Only the Brave may be familiar in its overall storytelling arcs about risktaking and redemption for men trying to make better, more productive lives for themselves and their families, though it is also effortlessly engaging and entertaining as it tells that familiar tale. But the movie — from director Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion) — feels like a sneakily informative primer about safety work that is becoming increasingly more essential as Earth heats up and wildfires get bigger and more dangerous every year.

These elite firefighters literally call themselves hotshots, and it’s tough to snort at this macho boasting because they’re so genuinely badass.

How, exactly, are wilderness fires battled? We learn that here, through the true story of the first certified hotshot team in the United States attached to a municipal fire department — previously they’d only been part of federal agencies — and their first few wildfire seasons. (This is based on a 2013 GQ article by Sean Flynn that you can read online, though I’d recommend waiting until after you see the film if you don’t already know the story, the better to preserve the suspense.) Through the fire-whispering wisdom of Josh Brolin’s Hail, Caesar!) veteran, who is usually right about how seemingly unpredictable wildfires will behave, and his training of Miles Teller’s (Bleed for This) new guy, we are immersed in the minutiae of how hotshots tame what must be one of nature’s most ferocious and menacing spectacles. With only a teeny bit of cornball and some excellent performances — especially from Teller and Jennifer Connelly (Spider-Man: Homecoming) as Brolin’s wife, who rises way above the typical supportive-spouse role — this is a sincere tribute to men who do a vital, perilous job well.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2017’s other releases.

green light 3.5 stars

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Only the Brave (2017) | directed by Joseph Kosinski
US/Can release: Oct 20 2017
UK/Ire release: Nov 10 2017

MPAA: rated PG-13 for thematic content, some sexual references, language and drug material
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate threat, drug misuse, bereavement scenes, strong language)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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