For a review of “Only the Brave,”
Joseph Kosinski’s “Only the Brave” is a deeply moving recounting of the events leading up to the death of 19 firefighters, known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots, while trying to protect the small town of Yarnell, Arizona, in 2013. Aseries of events put the crack firefighting team in the path of a massive fire that overwhelmed them, leaving only one survivor.
“Only the Brave” is a heart touching reminder of what real heroes look like and how they act. They can be your friends and neighbors who are only different in howthey don’t hesitate when there is a chance to help others. The loss of one such hero is a tragedy. The loss of 19 is a devastating moment in time that should be honored with this kind of loving film tribute.
The film follows the group based in Prescott, Arizona, as they work their way up to being the only certified hotshot team to work for a municipality. The last to join the group is Brendan McDonough ( Miles Teller), a drug user looking to change his life after he learns he is about to become a father.
Them entrain exceptionally hard to earn their way into the top of the firefighting hierarchy. Kosinki shows both the camaraderie the group had plus their deep devotion to family, particularly through the story of the group leader, Eric “Supe” Marsh ( Josh Brolin) and his wife, Amanda( Jennifer Connelly). There’s enough detail about their relationship to drive the emotional tones of the dramatic ending.
Con nelly turns in one of her best performances as the loving wife who must deal with the fact that her husband spends most of the year running into areas where fires scorch the earth. She is convincing both as a loving and supportive spouse and as a woman who is being choked by the constant specter of death.
It helps that she gets to share scenes with Brolin who masterfully plays the role of the group leader as both a harddriving boss and a member of the firefighting band of brothers who would do anything to protect the man beside him. Brolin handles the tough guy act with ease but he’s just as comfortable in the moments with Connelly when he can allow his emotions to show.
Equally strong is Teller, who grows with each role. His character exhibits the most growth in the group as he sweats his way to a maturity he’s never known. Along with Brolin, the two actors are the best developed of the hotshots.
That’s one of two problems with the film. It’s impossible within the confines of a 134- minute movie to fully deal with this many characters. Kosinski, working from the script by Ken Nolan, is backed into a corner where his only option was to spotlight a few of the hotshots and then touch on the others in passing. Many of those who died had families but that element is only broached in the end as the loved ones gather to get news of their husbands, sons and fathers.
Kosinski might have found a little more wiggle room by cutting most of the scenes with Jeff Bridges, the main advocate for the hotshots. The character offers little to advance the story and a scene with his playing with a local bar band comes across as more of a gimmick than being necessary.
The other problem is the timing. Movies like “Patriots Day” and “The 33” have been based on incidents that occurred in the last seven years. When making amovie based on a dramatic true event, there is a fine line between enough time elapsing to show a proper respect to the real people but not waiting so long that the story is a blip in history. This film feels like it was made so quickly that the dramatized tale is having to complete with the unforgettable real events.
But in this world where reality rules, this kind of production will be the norm until the time gap is so short that it’s counterproductive. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for a film to be made on the recent Las Vegas massacre.
What cushions the timeline situation with “Only the Brave” are the strong performances by Brolin, Connelly and Teller coupled with amovie that so vividly recreates the world of hotshot firefighters you can almost feel the heat coming off the screen.
And, the movie also features a beautiful song over the credits, “Hold the Light,” performed by Dierks Bentley. The Arizona native’s tune is by far the best original song in a feature film this year and should not be overlooked by those putting together the Oscar nominations.
These elements are strong enough to eclipse any writing and timing quibbles and make “Only the Brave” work both as an action- filled drama and as a fitting salute to 19 heroes.
“Only The Brave,” a Sony Pictures release, is rated PG- 13 for thematic content, sexual references, drug use and language. Running time: 134 minutes.
“The Florida Project”
' The Florida Project," Sean Baker's exuberant, ungovernable ode to the innocence and resilience of childhood, takes place in a ramshackle lavender- painted hotel called the Magic Castle, hard by Orlando's Disney World. Along with its neighboring oxymoronically named fleabags, the Magic Castle evokes the American Dream, while denying it at every downbeat, threadbare turn. It's American Dream- adjacent, with such middle- class advantages as financial security, leisure and cozy domestic stability tantalizingly visible but always just out of reach.
But that doesn't mean that the margins don't possess their share of enchantment. As "The Florida Project" opens, its spirited 6- year- old protagonist, Moonee ( newcomer Brooklynn Prince), is busy leading her friends on a game of mayhem and mischief throughout the stucco complex, which serves as cheap housing for her young mother, Halley ( Bria Vinaite), and a handful of folks who are struggling with addiction, homelessness, mental illness or simple bad luck.
It's a harsh, hard scrabble life, but Baker is determined to infuse it with wonder and its own brand of profane dignity. An independent, precocious heroine in the tradition of Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird," Moonee navigates circumstances not of her making, but ones she nonetheless makes her own by way of fantasies, games and the occasional sweet- faced panhandling gambit to cadge some ice cream from unsuspecting tourists.
Baker, whose breakout 2015 film "Tangerine" was filmed entirely on an iPhone, here trades that modest platform for lush 35mm film, fashioning a big, bright, improbably optimistic- looking canvas for a story steeped in heartbreak. The volatile, unreliable Halley, who resorts to prostitution when she can't make the Magic Castle's weekly rent, is little more than a kid herself. Moonee's street hustles and street- urchin scams may look adorably spunky now, but they suggest a far less rosy future down the road.
Baker doesn't superimpose those judgments. Instead, he presents "The Florida Project" as a respectful glimpse of a part of contemporary life that is often invisible to mainstream society. While the impulse is admirable, it results in a film that veers dangerously close to the kind of aestheticized poverty porn that bedeviled such similar enterprises as "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "American Honey."
And, too often, Baker over directs Prince, Halley and their fellow young cast members, most of whom are nonprofessional actors and whose performances are so keyed- up and theatrical that the viewer can almost hear the director asking for another take, only this time with more. That over-the- topness stands in particularly unflattering relief compared to "The Florida Project's" most revelatory moments, which belong to Willem Dafoe, who plays the Magic Castle's patient, gently paternalistic manager Bobby.
Although Moonee is the nominal heroine of "The Florida Project," it's Bobby who emerges as the indefatigable moral center of amovie that pulses with life, if not hope. Dafoe delivers his finest performance in recent memory, bringing to levelheaded, unsanctimonious life a character who offers a glimmer of hope and caring within a world marked ly short on both.
“The Florida Project,” a Cre Films release, is rated R for profanity, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material. Running time :115 minutes.
Willem Dafoe, left, and Brooklynn Prince star in “The Florida Project.”