Film Review: ONLY THE BRAVE (USA 2017) ***1/2

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Only the Brave Poster

Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters risk everything to protect a town from a historic wildfire.


Joseph Kosinski


Sean Flynn (based on the GQ article “No Exit” by), Ken Nolan


Warning: This review contains spoilers.  Spoilers are highlighted in italics

ONLY THE BRAVE, based on true events is a tough American biographical action disaster drama that tells the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.  The Hotshots are an elite crew of firefights that have first rights in the front lines to stopping fires (in decision and execution).  A local Arizona firefighting team finally gain qualification as hotshots under the leadership of Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin).

ONLY THE BRAVE is a disaster film not unlike THE TOWERING INFERNO.  It is one of the better firefighting films compared to past successes like John Wayne’s THE HELLFIGHTERS and Ron Howard’s BACKDRAFT.   A well balanced script by Ken Nolan (the excellent BLACKHAWK DOWN) and Eric Warren Singer (AMERICAN HUSTLE) ties in the human drama to the action.  As the ad goes: “It’s not what stands in front of you; It’s who stands beside you.”

There are a few human dramas on display.  They seems superfluous at the start but the actors and script hammer at the material till it finally grows on you.  The main one involves the chief Eric Marsh and the sacrifice his marriage to his wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) has taken.  She sees him only 10% of the time and she wants a change in their lives.  The other deals with hot shot youngster, an ex-addict, Brendan (Miles Teller) who joins the firefighters in order to support his daughter that has resulted from an unexpected pregnancy.    Brendan is given a chance by Eric who calls him ‘donut’.  The confrontation scene between Eric and Amanda strikes fireworks.

ONLY THE BRAVE marks the other kind of action hero film – the ones (like the recent PATRIOT’S DAY) that involve real life heroes in real life events.  These are the kind of heroes America needs these days, in times of terrorist attacks in a world gone crazy.   ONLY THE BRAVE celebrates true heroes and real people in an excellent executed film.  The fire scenes are authentic, as director Kosinski has said in an interview that he had gone for authenticity.

Great performances all around, particularly from Brolin and Jeff Bridges.  Miles Teller delivers another winning performance as a bad-ass character – annoying in the beginning, but capturing the heart of the audience by the end.

For such a serious topic, the script inserts a few metaphors (like the burning bear – a terrifying yet beautiful sight) and some needed honour.  The best and funniest line is the advice given by Duane Steinbrink (the Bridges character) to Eric: “You must know what you can live with and what you can die without.”  Even Duane does not know what it really means!

The climax of the film involves the Granite Mountain Hotshots (as they then call themselves) fighting the out-of-control Yarnell Hill Fire in the June of 2013.  Those who know the history will recall the sacrifice these firefighters made in order to control the fire and save lives.  Kosinski’s film ends up a tearjerker, so make sure you bring lots of Kleenex.  But these are tears well shed.  ONLY THE BRAVE is a worthy tribute, and as the words emphasize during the losing credits dedicated to the Granite Mountain Hotshots.


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THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK.jpgAdrift in New York City, a recent college graduate’s life is upended by his father’s mistress.

Director: Marc Webb
Writer: Allan Loeb
Stars: Callum Turner, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Nixon, Kiersey Clemons, Tate Donovan, Wallace Shawn

Review by Gilbert Seah 

 It has been 5 years since the announcement of the making of this movie and its completion after many delays and re-casting. Surprisingly, THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK turns out not that bad, but it is a far cry from the director’s first and excellent debut, THE (500) DAYS OF SUMMER.

The lead young actor, Callum Turner of THE ONLY LIVING BIY IN NEW YORK appears to be a clone of Joseph-Gordon Levitt in SUMMER, not only in looks but in certain mannerisms. Turner is not bad, charming, while portraying both the strength of a budding writer and a vulnerable player in the artistic world. The casting director seems unable to resist the casting of Wallace Shawn as a talking artist in one of the family’s famous artist dinner parties.

The script by Allan Loeb feels at times like a Woody Allen one, with multiple relationships going on at one time. No one appears capable of keeping a monogamous less honest relationship without sleeping with another and then substantiating it as all right afterwards. Unlike an Allen film, the guilt comes more into play in this story with each lover trying to right a wrong.

When the film begins, a recent college graduate, Thomas Webb (Turner) is given the news that the girl whom he has been seeing and has fallen in love with, Mimi Pastori (Kiersey Clemons) is leaving him to go abroad. They still love each other as they profess, which really means nothing in a film that tries to be as smug as this one, from the very beginning. Thomas ends up sleeping with his dad, Ethan’s (Pierce Brosnan) mistress, Johanna (Kate Beckinsale), while the poor mother Judith (Cynthia Nixon) looks on. It turns out that mother is not that innocent after all, as will be revealed later on in the story (no spoiler to be revealed here.) In the process of all this, Thomas meets, though too coincidentally, a neighbour stranger named W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges) who turns out to be his mentor helping him out both in his love affairs and life.

THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK is a likeable film and director Webb (who also did the SPIDER-MAN movies) knows how to make a likeable film. Love triumphs in many ways and always does. Everyone in the script also ends up with his or her own little happy ending.

THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK, which turns out to be the title of the book a character writes, will be inevitably compared to a Woody Allen movie for its look on the New York art scene and relationships.

This is the difference between Loeb’s script, Webb’s direction and Woody Allen’s works. Life does not always turn out to be happy endings. Allen’s characters suffer more, for their cheating in their love affairs and in general in how things in life eventually turn out. Life is not all plain sailing that turn out well. That is the reason Allen’s films are more endearing and realistic. And Allen knows how to put in more humour and sarcasm into his works as well. This film ends up a too smug arty fairy tale.


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