Advance screenings are a blessing, but what makes them even better is when they are kept secret and you find out about them anyway. Imagine my surprise when I opened the Fandango app on the morning of October 14 and noticed an unadvertised 7pm secret screening of Only the Brave. I immediately drove over to my theater at 11am to make sure I got a ticket before they sold out. Fast forward to that night. I walk into the theater, show my ticket, get concessions - the whole nine yards. I get to the auditorium my screening of Only the Brave was playing in and the sign outside the door says, "Flatliners". Yeah, that is definitely a good way to keep an advance screening secret because, come on, who wants to see Flatliners?
Only the Brave is the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots squad from Prescott, Arizona, 19 of which died while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013. Spoiler alert? No, this is not a spoiler. This is a true story, it has already happened, and it was all over the news when it happened. So no, that is not a spoiler. Some people will not like this, but this is very much a patriotic American hero film much like the Peter Berg-Mark Wahlberg collaborations of Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and Patriots Day. If you liked those films, which I sure did, then this will be right up your alley as well. Before I dive in deep, here is what I wrote on Letterboxd:
"The entire theater was in tears. I could hear everyone crying. Josh Brolin and Miles Teller can carry a film even better than Mark Wahlberg. Seriously, bring some tissues, because you will cry multiple times and the final 30 minutes (including the tribute and credits) will wreck you if you are any bit sensitive and emotional. The cinematography was also spectacular in Only the Brave. Lighting and color were used brilliantly to set the mood all throughout the entire film. It does have a runtime of 2 hours and 14 minutes, but don’t let that turn you off. It is a slow burn (no pun intended), but the story is so darn good that you’ll be on the edge of your seat and the movie will fly." - @KevWatchesFilms on Letterboxd.com.
I cannot talk about this film without giving a lot of credit to its ensemble cast that knocks it out of the park. Jeff Bridges, Taylor Kitsch, James Badge Dale, and Jennifer Connelly do not get the bulk of the screen time, but they shine when given the opportunity to do so. The bulk of the runtime is dedicated to our co-leads, Miles Teller and Josh Brolin. Teller deservedly gets some crap for being in some flops like War Dogs, Bleed for This, and Fant4stic. However, he can turn up the emotion and drama when he needs to, which is something we saw from his performances in Whiplash and The Spectacular Now. He hits another home run here as "Donut", a drug addict with a daughter who's looking to turn his life around. Josh Brolin's character, Eric "Supe" Marsh, steps in as the mentor to Teller's character, but we learn he also some drama going on with his love life. They learn from each other, which I know is super cliché, but it tapped into my emotions. What really blew me away about Teller's performance, however, was the final 20-30 minutes in which he becomes the true star and lead of the movie. The way he can portray such raw emotion through his facial expressions is a skill a lot of actors nowadays do not possess.
Claudio Miranda is quickly becoming one of my favorite cinematographers out there along with Roger Deakins and Linus Sandgren. Miranda's credits as the Director of Photography include Tomorrowland, Oblivion, Life of Pi, Tron: Legacy, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Are all of those films great films? No, of course not. However, they are all visually stunning and beautiful. Here Miranda had the big advantage of working with nature in an absolutely gorgeous environment surrounded by mountains, rolling hills, and plains. Only the Brave boasts some of the best wide shots I have seen in 2017, but Miranda's true strength lies in using color and lighting to set a mood and solidify the film's intensity. That is made apparent in every image used in this review. To sum up and verbalize my opinion of the film's cinematography, here is a quote from Josh Brolin's character:
"I worked this blaze near Big Timber, Montana, in the blink of an eye there’s fire everywhere, and then charging out of these flames comes this bear on fire. That was the most beautiful and terrible thing I’ve ever seen." - Josh Brolin as Eric Marsh, Only the Brave (2017).
It is close, in my opinion, but Only the Brave is not a masterpiece. There are a couple of minor issues that took away from the film. It does have one plot hole in regards to what happens to Teller's character when the film suddenly fast-forwards 9 months with no explanation. There is also an unnecessary flash-forward ending with Jennifer Connelly's character that added no value to the film for me, but it also did not take away from the film. The screen I saw the film on wasn’t large enough and/or the film was not formatted correctly to play on such a small screen at my local theater. There is some occasional on-screen text telling you the film’s location and it was oftentimes cut off on the screen, but that of course is not the film’s fault. This is a film that really deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible due to its large-scale premise and gorgeous wide shots.
Despite its runtime over 2 hours, Only the Brave still manages to gloss over some details for the sake of getting to the next fire, and it has an ending scene that we could do without, but it is easily one of the most emotionally powerful and beautifully shot films of 2017. Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy and Oblivion) has finally proven, to me, why he was chosen to direct Top Gun's long-awaited 2019 sequel Top Gun: Maverick and will hopefully become one of Hollywood's most sought-after action-drama directors. Only the Brave is being released in theaters nationwide tomorrow, October 20, 2017.
FINAL SCORE: 4.5/5 (Great)
*All images belong to Columbia Pictures and Director Joseph Kosinski.