BEIRUT: Say what you will about the importance of visuals, sound, and editing, but when it comes down to it, a story is the true heart of cinema.
Joseph Kosinki’s Only the Brave, previously titled The Granite Mountain Hotshots, is a harrowing biographical tale about the twenty elite firefighters who fought against the Yarnell Hill Fire in June of 2013.
The film, already receiving praise for its genuine and touching storytelling, proves that cinema works best when it’s done with honesty and heart.
Screenwriters Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer based the screenplay on a GQ article entitled “No Exit” written by Sean Flynn, which detailed the rise of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and the Yarnell Hill Fire.
The narrative is led by Eric “Supe” Marsh, powerfully played by James Brolin, and Brendan “Donut” McDonough, a performance finally showcasing Miles Teller’s skill as an actor.
The two characters, mirrors of each other, go through classical character arcs of transformation delivering what is possibly one of the most satisfying arcs in recent years.
What makes this narrative unique, however, is the economic use of the factual events, and how they interwove with dramatic beats.
The amount of respect, reverence, and honor that was placed within the screenplay and the characterizations are beyond evident and makes this quite an inspiring film to witness.
It was not a story about the fire, nor was it a film about spectacle.
At its core, Only the Brave is a film about characters, and more specifically family and honor – a theme that is lacking in present-day cinema.
Both Kosinski and cinematographer Claudio Miranda deliver some breathtaking landscapes, forming a motif, a significant pattern, with their repeating bird’s eye view shots, when the camera is directly above the action – a clear symbol that nature is beyond mankind.
The blending of practical effects and visual effects (CGI) is remarkable, never once giving away the illusion.
Even with the massive tidal wave of flames sweeping across the forests and annihilating every living thing, it all seemed too real to absorb.
Only the Brave’s vigor also comes from the heart of its ensemble cast.
Along with Brolin and Teller, the cast includes Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, Thad Bucknill, Taylor Kitsch, among many others who all deliver unpretentious performances.
The film never shies away from the true struggles that families, with firefighters, face, and how difficult it can be for wives to share their husbands with fire.
Within the themes of family and honor is a third theme, redemption.
Both Marsh and McDonough are men who are trying to redeem themselves in the eyes of their significant other, Marsh being his wife and McDonough his newly born daughter.
It is that dramatic goal that carries the weight of the film.
Nothing about this film ever feels flawed or fallacious, every beat occurs naturally and in the service of the narrative.
The truly captivating aspect of the film is knowing that these events occurred to some extent and that events similar to this occur on a regular basis in the United States of America, and maybe even globally.
It’s been quite some time since audiences last saw true heroes on the silver screens.
Not men with super-powers, who can fly or ricochet bullets; not men who hide their faces from their enemies; but rather true men who face their enemy head-on, put their lives and families on the line and risk it all in order to save, protect, and serve.
As a result, expressing the true nature of bravery, sacrifice, and honor.
This is not to say that the female characters in the film were weak, but they showed a different kind of strength, a strength that is also rarely seen in today’s cinema.
The women in this film stood by their families and stayed strong while watching their husbands leave every day, all the while not knowing whether or not they would return.
It was Marsh’s wife Amanda’s strength that pulled McDonough out of despair at the end of the film. Her strength in knowing that there would always be hope, and believing in her husband.
Not only were the firefighters in the narrative brave, but it was pure bravery that leads Kosinski and the production team, along with the cast, to execute such a film in today’s political climate.
This is why the film is powerful – because it dared to tell a genuine tale and face the inferno of the possible political audience.
Only the Brave is now playing in cinemas across Lebanon.
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