“… was a really good movie until it wasn’t.”
There are a few movies out this week that I want to see, but out of all of them I decided to watch Only the Brave first. Only the Brave is a true story that follows the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of firefighters who stood on the front lines protecting America from wildfires. The film follows this group and all of their relationships with one another, and is really able to get you to connect to these men and respect their acts of bravery.
So what did I think about Only the Brave? I absolutely loved it. The film starts off by throwing you right into the action, and demonstrating what this team does for a living. Right away I noticed something interesting, and that was the tonal inconsistencies in the film. Only the Brave is a film with obviously a very serious subject matter, but that didn’t stop itself from taking the time for a few jokes here and there. As a matter of fact, a lot of this movie was downright hilarious. And this may have been something to hold against the film because it was a little bit of a tonal roller-coaster at times, but I thought the film handled it very well. It used comedy to allow you to get attached to these characters that you’re watching, and it worked wonderfully. Not only did you get a few laughs but you also grew closer to these men, and in turn you grew more invested in the story. Something else that troubled me a little bit was the borderline ‘tear-bait’ that plagued a lot of this movie. By this I mean that situations were always the saddest they could be, seemingly to get you emotionally attached. Even if it had very little relevance to the story, it would always try to pull that one little tear from you in any way that it could. For example: the wife of one of the characters cares for horses. This leads to a scene wherein there is an abused horse that she is nursing back to health. Did this have any relevance to the story? No. It was obviously just there to get the few old people in the audience going “Aww” and possibly tearing up. There are other examples of this too, but I won’t get bogged down in this point because I fell that it was also handled pretty well. Sure some of these moments felt exploitative, but the rest of the movie was made so well and earnestly that I can’t help but look past these minor scuffs on an otherwise crystal track-record. I found everything in Only the Brave to be done with so much care and respect, and because of that you get to not only love these men but also understand the kind of sacrifices they made in their own lives. Only the Brave was a fucking phenomenal film.
…that is, until the second half comes along. Almost on the fucking nose, one hour into Only the Brave it’s like a switch is flipped and everything that I mentioned before goes belly-up. Let’s start with the ‘tonal roller-coaster’ aspect because it, like everything else, turns to shit in the second half. Instead of finding a pretty good balance, Only the Brave decides to bombard us with what is almost a collage of either really shitty or really happy moments. This portion of the movie is really tonally inconsistent, so to even compare it to a roller-coaster wouldn’t make much sense; at least roller-coasters have a pattern. And part of what makes this part of the movie so bad leads me wonderfully into my second point, and that is the fact that literally everything turned to shit for no apparent reason. I’m not talking about my perception of the movie either, I’m talking about characters having good lives, and then all of a sudden everything starts to go wrong for each and every one of them. I’m not sure why this approach was taken because it didn’t help with my connection to the characters, it only made me angry at the poor writing in the film that couldn’t create realistic scenarios for why things went bad, instead just making them bad all at once. Luckily the ending of the film comes along and kind of saves a few things, but not all of them. The ending of Only the Brave is so fucking powerful, and it would have easily (and will still probably) make this movie very memorable; but it still wasn’t without its issues. I found that the biggest problem I had with the ending of the film goes back to the inconstant tone I’ve been talking about. Obviously something bad is going down, but how am I supposed to feel any form of scared if the characters on screen aren’t showing that same fear. You’ve spent the entire movie hammering in the point that these men are the best at what they do, so if they aren’t worried why should I be worried? I’m just some asshole sitting in a movie theatre surrounded by discarded popcorn and old ladies still crying about that abused horse, what do I know? But still the ending comes along and, despite it kind of shooting itself in the foot in the moments leading up to it, delivers a tremendously powerful blow to your heart.
Luckily there was one thing in Only the Brave that stayed consistent throughout and that was the performances. When you’re watching Only the Brave one of the main thoughts that will be racing through your head will be “Oh shit, it’s that guy”. This movie has such a stacked cast it still amazes me despite having seen the movie over twelve hours ago. Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Taylor Kitsch; and the list goes on. And do you know what makes that cast all the more impressive? Every single one of them delivered performances that were flawless. During the movie I no longer saw these celebrities, I saw people. And that’s not such an easy feat considering how emotionally heavy a lot of this movie was. You have people like Josh Brolin and Jennifer Connelly sharing these tremendously heavy scenes together, each of them essentially exchanging blows with one another but neither one willing to back down from this ‘acting fight’. You have Miles Teller who got absolutely lost in his role and took me along with him (especially toward the end of the film), as well as Taylor Kitsch and others making up the rest of the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew. The chemistry that could be felt between these characters only added to the connection we had to them, and it was thanks to each and every one of these actors that this movie worked so well (at least some of the time). And of course you had Jeff Bridges who was perpetually out of breath. I’m sorry, his performance was also great but I just can’t get over how exhausted that guy was at every single turn. I had no idea that sitting on a horse was such a taxing activity, but Jeff Bridges definitely showed me the light on that one.
Overall Only the Brave was a really good movie until it wasn’t. It started off so strong, creating characters that we could connect with and situations that we could respect, but then at the halfway-mark a switch was seemingly flipped and the entire thing went belly-up. The ending recaptured a little of the magic from the start of the film delivering a very powerful experience, but for the most part it wasn’t enough to save my opinion. Luckily I had wonderful performances to entertain me throughout the entire film.
I give Only the Brave a C