Only the Brave could be the smartest firefighting-based film out there today. It subverts the typical rote tropes of most films in the genre, and instead gives us genuine and real characters. Add in an all-star cast of actors who all turn in great performances, and we're left with a well-acted movie with a whole lot of heart. Given the fact that the video and audio quality are real winners, we have a solid package that is easily Recommended.
In film school, you learn that there is no such thing as a “bad idea,” only bad execution. For instance, I would say it’s a bad idea to start a billion-dollar franchise based on Point Break but with cars. And yet, we have the Fast and the Furious franchise where the first installment was very much that template. As wrong as I was back when that franchise first premiered, this is a rule I tend to forget.
On paper, a movie like Only the Brave would be a movie filled with clichéd characterization and a predictable outcome. Yet our lead character Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) isn’t an unbelievable character seeking redemption. Nope. He’s a likable guy who has a wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), who loves him but doesn’t live her life around the fact that her husband fights wildfires. She has her own business working her farm and training horses. The junky rookie Brendan (Miles Teller), our viewpoint into the world of wildfire fighting, is a screw up who ends up being the team’s demise. However, we very much are supposed to root for his success. It is rare that we see these character archetypes subverted this way in a film, and they are all the better for it.
Usually, those stereotypes are only there to showcase the fact that this is a movie about firefighters or police officers. In this film, these characters are Firefighters and that is an important part of their lives, but that isn't what defines them as characters. They have lives and a comradery with each other that extends beyond their profession. Brendon has a drug problem, but still struggling to support his daughter. Christopher (Taylor Kitsch) is dating the hottest model in town and learning the downside of such decisions. These are all small character arcs, but these actors bring a whole lot to their characters.
On top of all of that, Only the Brave is an actual true story, and being a good one, it teaches us a lot about the brave men and woman who fight California wildfires. I had no idea there are actually different classes of firemen who brave the elements and fight these fires. Plus, being someone who doesn’t live in an area that has to worry about wildfires too often, I had no idea the process of putting out these fires was essentially knocking down and removing everything that could spread the fire (removing any "fuel to the fire" so of speak). Only the Brave is a very respectful movie not just toward the profession it portrays, but also its characters. And above all, it proved to me that not all films based on a profession such as firefighting have to be preachy melodramas.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Only the Brave hits Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures with a standard slipcover to hardcover keep case packaging. Enclosed lies a BD-50 Blu-ray with a Digital HD Ultraviolet download code. Once inserted, we are brought to a whole slew of skippable trailers that lead to a still image main menu that allows navigation from there.
Only the Brave fights its way through the smoky haze and on to home video with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode that, if you followed this director’s work, unsurprisingly looks amazingly good. Joseph Kosinski has made a name for himself by making slick Hollywood films that have a unique visual style. Framed at a 2.39:1 aspect ratio, this was actually shot digitally with a Sony CineAlta F65 camera at a 4K Digital Intermediate, it breaks this techie’s heart not to be reviewing a 4K Ultra HD disc today. But this film did flop, and that’s the way the cookie crumbles in Hollywood.
(Editor's note: while there's no 4K Blu-ray slated for release, you can rent/stream the film in 4K UHD on services like VUDU and iTunes.)
Nonetheless, this HD transfer is as sharp as any Blu-ray in your collection and is flawless in that regard. Detail work is impeccable and every frame bursts off the screen with depth and texture.
Black and white levels are excellent with neither one crushing or protruding on image quality. Everything would seem to be reference quality here... except for one minor detail. In small instances, there are instances of aliasing on hats and boots that prevent this from being the reference quality transfer it could have been. But that is a minor detail in what otherwise is a stellar effort and honestly is as close to a five-star rating as you can get without actually achieving it.
Sony brings the heat on Blu-ray by giving Only the Brave a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that is a real showstopper. Now, I do have to start off with a small bone I have with this disc in general, because just like the video transfer, this was originally mixed in Dolby Atmos, yet we are still given this downmixed track. With that off my chest, the mix is dynamic and knows what to do and when to do it. Right from the opening scene, a wildfire erupts through your subwoofer, through your fronts, and into your surrounds in glorious fashion.
(Editor's note: You can hear the original Atmos mix, albeit in lossy form, by renting/streaming the movie in UHD via VUDU.)
Audio Commentary – An informative commentary with Director Joseph Kosinski and Josh Brolin as they discuss the article the film was based on, and certain technical aspects of the production, along with what they learned from doing their research on wildlife fighting.
Honoring the Heroes: The True Stories (HD 8:08) – The cast and crew reflect on the story this film was based on.
Boot Camp: Becoming A Hotshot (HD 8:42) – Ever wonder what it takes to brace the elements with these real-life heroes? Here is a closer look at the training that actually goes into the profession, and the training the actors went through as well.
Behind the Brotherhood: The Characters (HD 7:20) – The importance of respecting the real-life characters is something that was actually held in high regard on this set. And here, they go into the authenticity of these actors playing these characters.
Music Video (HD 4:40) – “Hold the Light” performed by Dierks Bentley featuring S. Carey.
Behind the Song: “Hold the Light” (2:42) – Dierks Bentley has a heartfelt discussion about fighting wildfires and what it means to him, along with the significance of the song.
Deleted Scenes (HD 2:12)
Only the Brave is an honest and heartfelt look at the men and women who risk their lives fighting California wildfires. It doesn’t glorify the material or spoonfeed its audience schmaltzy sentiments. Instead, it shows us a little window into these characters’ lives that also happen to be firemen. There is not a false beat throughout the whole film. Put that together with an above average video and audio transfers, and you get an easily Recommended release.