Only The Brave is a hollow drama about Arizona firefighters

Every moment is laden with meaning because this is a Tragic True Story

ONLY THE BRAVE (Joseph Kosinski). 134 minutes. See listing. Opens Friday (October 20). Rating: NN 

Only The Brave is what happens when Joseph Kosinski, director of the lightweight effects epics TRON: Legacy and Oblivion, tries to make a grand statement about the American spirit: it looks good, it features a lot of committed actors, and it’s completely hollow. 

Expanding on a very good GQ article by Sean Flynn, Kosinski and screenwriters Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle) and Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down) turn the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots – a team of Arizona firefighters who specialized in wildfires – into a middling, overlong drama about courage, camaraderie and square-jawed heroism, every moment laden with meaning because this is a Tragic True Story. 

Kosinski doesn’t even try to find depth in the characters, rendering most of the Hotshots as scruffy good guys (they work hard! They rag on each other! They love their wives and girlfriends! Sometimes they line dance!) and focusing on just two or three principals. 

Josh Brolin is Eric Marsh, the squinty supervisor who treats fire like an old enemy but neglects his wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) Miles Teller is Brendan McDonough, the recovering addict and new father trying to turn his life around Taylor Kitsch is Chris MacKenzie, who’s kind of a jerk James Badge Dale is Jesse Steed, upright family man and Marsh’s right hand.

That’s as defined as anyone’s allowed to get, as Kosinski plods through scene after flat scene. He does let Jeff Bridges sing a song, which is nice of him – and maybe a way of making up for all the performance-capture work the actor went through in TRON: Legacy – but it’s also very clear that Kosinski’s just marking time until he can drop the hammer and make the audience cry.

The real Hotshots and their families deserve better than to be rendered so one-dimensionally.

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