Review: Only the Brave

Though stuffed to the gills with macho signifiers and the sentimentalized homoerotic comradeship of men in peril, this action film about the job of forest firefighting is notable for the way it incorporates the minutiae of the job into a kickass storyline without making it feel pedantic or dry. In the opening scenes, a fire department supervisor for the city of Prescott, Arizona, Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), prepares his team for recertification from your normal fire crew to a coveted federally recognized “hotshot” team, which are called on only to battle the most dangerous forest fires. The crew’s grueling physical training regimen is detailed, but also its logistical knowhow in learning how fires spread, which mostly involves preparing a line at the edge of an area where the fire is heading in order to “contain” it. The work looks unexciting—mostly clearing the area of brush and fuel—but is nevertheless fascinating in the way it enlightens the viewer of what they need to know about the drama that will eventually unfold.

Unfortunately, this straightforward methodology is complicated by the usual dramatic flourishes, embodied in the character of Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a former drug addict who, now that he’s a father, is walking the straight-and-narrow with a particularly upright backbone. Mistrusted by the rest of the crew he’s trying to join, he has his work cut out for him, but Marsh keeps cutting him slack because he suspects that what he’s been through will make him more conscientious as a fireman—not braver or less risk-aversive, but smarter when things get really tough. Marsh is the big brother figure, which means Marsh himself needs a father figure, which comes in the form of Jeff Bridges as Prescott’s fire chief. Though director Joseph Kosinski doesn’t belabor these relationships, he doesn’t do much to make them anything more than emotional fuel that never quite gets lit. Then, of course, there are the women, notably Marsh’s wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), who hold down the fort and worry excessively about their men whenever they go into the flaming fray. The requisite action finale is scary and bracing and keeps the focus on what’s real at the moment rather than what’s going to happen. The movie builds suspense from what we have learned about the way forest fires “act.” It’s a rare disaster movie that asks you to appreciate the action based on what it’s already taught you about nature, both human and existential.

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024), Toho Cinemas Ueno (050-6868-5060), Cinema Sunshine Ikebukuro (03-3982-6388).

Only the Brave home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2017 No Exit Film LLC

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