The North Bay is primed to admire the heroism of firefighters. Their job gets worse every year, and no praise is worthy enough for them. And, sadly, along comes Only the Brave, with its unimaginative title—a true story of loss, easily predictable from seeing the name “Jennifer Connelly” in the credits. As the actress Sylvia Sidney once said about the weepy parts she had, Connelly should have been paid by the tear.
It’s the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a team dropped in to dig firebreaks and set off controlled burns in the Yarnell Hill fire near Prescott, Arizona, in 2013. Miles Teller is the rookie McDonough, called Donut, the town loser given the chance for redemption by the chief, Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin). At home, there’s strife between Marsh and his horse-rescuing wife Amanda (Connelly): she wants a kid; he doesn’t want to leave a kid orphaned by fire. Happily, Connelly isn’t given the line “If you go fight that fire, I might not be here when you get back.” (It’s actually “You live in a glass box labeled ‘Break in case of fire’!”)
In glimpses, we see the Connelly of the days before she became a weeping Madonna; she’s a lithe horsewoman and she looks good in a cowboy hat. Visually, the two work well together, what with Brolin having one of the best chins in the business. Director Joseph Kosinski has worked with Disney and the upcoming sequel to Top Gun. He went with the latter hyperproactive style—lots of butt baring, classic rock and ball-busting.
The fires are fierce, but they come late in the film. Meanwhile, Kosinski fattens a lean narrative coda with failed poetry. Only the Brave‘s script is so weak it makes Brolin and others look like second-generation movie stars putting their feet up, instead of the top-drawer actors we know they can be.
‘Only the Brave’ is playing in wide release in the North Bay.