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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Only the Brave is an intense but uneven drama about the real-life Granite Mountain Hotshots, a team of elite firefighters from Arizona who faced a deadly wildfire in June 2013, demonstrating courage, perseverance, and teamwork in the process. The main concern for younger viewers is the peril of the fast-moving fires, but though there are deaths, they're not shown on-screen. There's also a snake bite and a couple of fights. Characters swear fairly frequently (including a couple uses of "f--k," "s--t," "ass," and more) and talk roughly but non-graphically about sex; they also rip into each other for fun. Drug use is a plot element -- characters work hard to overcome addiction, and drug use is clearly frowned upon -- and what looks like crack is smoked in one scene. There's also some drinking, a brief moment of nonsexual male partial nudity (bare bottoms), and a romantic (but not graphic) bathtub scene. Josh Brolin and Miles Teller co-star.
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What's the story?
ONLY THE BRAVE tells the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite wildlands firefighting team. Hard-driving supervisor Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) pushes for his local crew to become the first of their origin to be certified as "hot shots," with the help of Division Chief Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges). Marsh and his right-hand man, Captain Jesse Steed (James Badge Dale), lead a team that includes Chris "Mac" MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch) and Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a new recruit with a shady past, to fight dangerous fires around the United States. The team's camaraderie and expertise grow, but there are tensions at home as McDonough struggles to overcome his demons and become a good dad, while Marsh and his wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), work through their complex relationship. Eventually, the team comes upon a massive, fast-moving blaze that it may not be able to handle.
Is it any good?
There's a lot to like here: the dialogue, the relationships, the technical expertise; but there's also a lot to not like here: the dialogue, the relationships, the technical expertise. Only the Brave is at its strongest in the easy camaraderie of the elite firefighters, with their goofing around and male bonding. But the film clearly treats its real-life subjects with kid gloves. McDonough has a pretty easy time of it, going from unbelievably stupid crackhead to dedicated family man and reliable wildlands firefighter with surprisingly little on-screen struggle. Luckily, Teller is a skilled actor who more or less sells it. More punches are obviously pulled with team supervisor Marsh (played by the at-home-in-his-own-skin Brolin), whom, we're told, has made enemies with his attitude. On-screen, his greatest sin is that (predictably) he cares too damn much. The relationships built within the crew, particularly between McDonough and initial nemesis Chris "Mac" MacKenzie (a likeable Kitsch), provide some human ballast. But the domestic drama either doesn't fly -- as with Marsh and his wife -- or does, as with McDonough's fumblings toward fatherhood. The dialogue is similarly uneven, reeling from the guys' amusing banter to heavy-handed clichés that can tip toward the laughable: "It's not easy ... sharing your man with the fire" And "I went in with my eyes wide open," bravely asserts one long-suffering wife. "That doesn't mean you can see everything coming," comes another's wise response.
The storytelling also leans toward heavy-handed and clichéd: A lingering look at a character getting into a truck means ... well, you can guess. A character talks about retiring, so the next time out ... well, you can guess. Brave's worst cinematic sin, though, is its failure to convey the logistics of the action. While it can be fascinating to watch the characters' technical expertise, their physical feats, and their strategy and skill, the film doesn't bother to fill in knowledge gaps for regular viewers. We're simply intended to accept that every strategic call one of the characters makes is right, even though other experts vehemently disagree. This is crucial in the film's climax, when it's difficult to understand why certain decisions are made. That lack of clarity may open cans of worms the filmmakers don't intend, as viewers may wonder why certain horrible events had to occur. Only the Brave serves as a fond tribute to real-life heroes, but as a work of art, it's uneven.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Only the Brave's scenes of firefighting. Were they frightening? Impressive? Were you able to follow the action? How do the scenes in this movie compare with other forms of movie violence? Is one type scarier than another?
Beneath the story of dedication and heroism is a story of redemption for several characters. How do their addiction issues play into the story? Do they deserve second chances? What did they do with those chances? Do you consider them role models?
Were you surprised to see firefighters starting fires? Were you able to follow their strategies? What were you interested to learn about the firefighters?
- In theaters: October 20, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: February 6, 2018
- Cast: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges
- Director: Joseph Kosinski
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 133 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic content, some sexual references, language and drug material
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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