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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

After a slow start, Only the Brave rallies to become a solid tribute to the Granite Mountain Hotshots, 19 of whom died battling the massive Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013.

The Hotshots were an elite Prescott, Ariz., crew led by veteran firefighter Eric Marsh, played here by Josh Brolin. This performance ranks among Brolin’s best, as he shows us a passionate man presiding over his crew like a father to his sons.

Marsh takes a risk on Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a former drug-user seeking redemption and a decent living to provide for his newborn daughter. The always-reliable Teller matches Brolin’s acting triumph every step of the way, making both Marsh and McDonough fleshed-out, complicated characters. The two seem right at home with each other onscreen.

Director Joseph Kosinski takes a solid step beyond his prior sci-fi blunders (Oblivion, TRON: Legacy) to deliver a movie that is technically sound and emotionally powerful, if a little hokey and overlong in spots. The movie is never bad, but it does drone on a bit during some of the melodramatic build up. It never goes wrong when the team is on the job and fighting fires; it just gets a little sleepy when folks are sitting around talking or bickering.

We see the team containing numerous fires throughout the film, giving us the sense that these guys were in full command of their trade. Of course, nature is an awesome and awful beast—and when the wind shifts and sends the Yarnell blaze toward the unsuspecting men, you get a true sense of how random and crazy the event was. These guys were the best of the best, and even they couldn’t predict what was going to happen.

Kosinski has assembled a cast that includes Brolin’s True Grit cast mate Jeff Bridges as Duane Steinbrink, Marsh’s supervisor. You can’t go wrong with Bridges; he delivers good humor, at one point busts out a guitar, and ultimately provides the movie with a solid emotional punch during the finale. Taylor Kitsch gets some good laughs as troublemaker Christopher MacKenzie; he gripes about handing over his new Vans to trainee Brendan, but winds up becoming his best friend over time.

As Amanda Marsh—Eric’s wife who takes care of injured horses when he’s away—Jennifer Connelly gets a chance to shine. Like Eric, Amanda has had a rough past, and problems bubble to the surface during some of his stop-ins between fires. Connelly does well with material that could seem played out in the hands of others. She adds angst to the mix with Amanda, and it works.

Knowing nothing about the art of firefighting, I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this film, but it sure does feel realistic. The Hotshots do controlled burns to protect landscapes, save historic trees and rescue neighborhoods. Additional supporting cast members, like James Badge Dale as Jesse Steed, Marsh’s second in command, give you a sense that the actors did a lot of ride-alongs for their roles.

Even though the fate of the men in the film is well-known, the depiction of the Yarnell Fire still blindsides you. Brolin’s Marsh figures it will be an easily contained fire, with the men home for dinner. Kosinski portrays the shock of the whole situation effectively; the men were working a situation which seemed to be completely under control.

The final sequences in the movie are so well done that you’ll feel kind of bad for groaning during the film’s more lumbering parts. By the time Kosinski shows the real-life firefighters alongside their Hollywood counterparts, the film has become a nice homage to these great, unselfish, all-giving men.

Parts of the country are going through some of the worst fire seasons in modern history. It’s not surprising this film didn’t have a big opening weekend; it’s a subject very close to home and truly painful for many. It’s a movie that will gain an audience over time.

Only the Brave is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Tom Cruise spends most of Oblivion in a goofy, impractical-looking leather space suit that clashes with his 2013 hairstyle and reminds of Captain EO.

Yes, it’s silly to notice these things, but Oblivion is the sort of film that causes one to notice such trivial matters, for the movie surrounding that goofy outfit is not that good.

Cruise, however, is in typically fine form as Jack, a scout/worker for the surviving human race, following a devastating alien attack 60 years before (in 2017). The remaining population of Earth has been sent to a moon of Saturn, and Jack’s job is to make sure Earth’s energy resources are properly mined. He lives in a stylish outpost with a hot partner (Andrea Riseborough), and their work is being monitored via video by Sally (Melissa Leo), an overly nice boss.

Jack is haunted by dreams of a past Earth world that he is too young to have experienced. In his dreams, he meets up with a woman (Olga Kurylenko) atop the Empire State Building, just like in Sleepless in Seattle. He’s found a cabin in the woods where he wears a Yankees cap and listens to Led Zeppelin. He seems very at home for a guy who supposedly never set foot on pre-invasion Earth.

Of course, there’s more to Jack’s universe than meets the eye. He eventually comes face-to-face with Beech (Morgan Freeman), a wise, old, cigar-smoking man (those cigars must be 60 years old and awful) who is going to turn Jack’s world upside down.

The movie has some significant twists and turns, and some of them are not at all surprising. However, one particular twist caught me off guard, and is pretty clever.

As for the action, it’s sub-par. I actually stumbled upon Cruise on Jimmy Kimmel’s show the other night before I saw the film. I turned it on during a clip showing Cruise in a funny-looking little spaceship, shooting a drone-type thing out of the sky with a pistol and crashing in the desert. I thought it was a gag, because it looked cheap. Turns out it was the movie’s major action-set piece.

While the Cruise performance is good, he does slip into that Tom Cruise-yelling mode, often reminding of his interrogation of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. Tom Cruise yelling is, sometimes, unintentionally funny.

Oblivion is derivative of many sci-fi films that came before it, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Total Recall, etc. A little bit of all of those movies and others can be found among the plot threads and visual effects.

As for those visual effects, they aren’t spectacular. I did like seeing the top of the Empire State Building protruding from grey Earth, the ground having risen to the famous landmark’s observatory deck. Otherwise, there are some weak CGI recreations of demolished landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty.

The film drags itself to its inevitable conclusion, providing no real surprises or excitement. The last scene involves something that is supposed to be triumphant, but is actually quite weird.

Joseph Kosinski directs; his only other directorial credit is TRON: Legacy. Oblivion is a marked improvement over that fiasco. As with TRON, Kosinski is far more preoccupied with visuals over substance. And in both cases, the visuals aren’t anything to get excited about.

Cruise is in a sci-fi state of mind these days. Up next is Doug Liman’s All You Need Is Kill, in which he plays a soldier caught in a time loop and repeatedly getting killed by aliens. (Cruise haters will probably get a kick out of seeing their nemesis getting repeatedly smoked.) Then it’s Yukikaze, based on yet another alien invasion scenario.

In his most recent three films, Tom Cruise has played similarly titled characters: Stacee Jaxx (Rock of Ages), Jack Reacher (Jack Reacher) and just plain Jack in this film. That’s another useless factoid I fixed on while being mildly bored by the ho-hum Oblivion.

Oblivion is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews