Tag Archives: C+

ONLY THE BRAVE

Producer: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Eric Howsam, Michael Menchel, Molly Smith, Trent Luckinbill, Thad Luckinbill, Dawn Ostroff and Jeremy Steckler
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writer: Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer
Stars: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly, Andie MacDowell, Scott Haze, Alex Russell, Ben Hardy, Rachel Singer, Natalie Hall, Geoff Stults and Jake Picking
Studio: Sony/Columbia Pictures

C+

The practice of doing big-budget dramatizations of high-octane stories that, as used to be said, have been “ripped from the headlines” continues with Joseph Kosinski’s recreation of the tragedy that befell an ace team of Arizona first responders called in to fight the so-called Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013. “Only the Brave” follows the pattern of Peter Berg’s “Deepwater Horizon,” though it’s less viscerally exciting and, frankly, more downbeat. It’s a decent, well-crafted film, but ultimately more workmanlike than inspired, though one has to commend its commitment to authenticity while regretting its periodic lapses into domestic melodrama. Of course, the destructive California wildfires in the news over the past weeks give it a particularly timely aura.

The first—and by far the longest—portion of the epic-length (134 minutes) movie—is devoted to introducing the men of the Prescott unit that, when first encountered in 2008, is a handcrew (Type 2) squad. As such it assists hotshot (Type 1) units, which have primary on-the-ground decision-making authority in fighting wildfires.

The Prescott squad is headed by Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), who’s chafing at the bit to win certification at hotshot level. Enlisting the aid of Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges), the chief of Prescott’s wildland department, Marsh wins a real-life certification test in which his men perform expertly in fighting a fire, even though the test supervisor butts heads with Marsh over tactics, and they become the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

Juxtaposed with all the group’s training exercises and locker-room banter is the story of a new recruit, Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), who will eventually be given the nickname “Donut.” A troubled young man—given to heavy drinking and drug use, and recently arrested for breaking into a car—he’s just learned that his girlfriend is pregnant. Determined to prove he can change, he applies for the open slot on the squad, and though one of the men, Chris MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch), warns Marsh that the kid is unreliable, Marsh takes him on—because, as we’ll learn later in one of the rather stilted exchanges between Eric and his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), Marsh sees a lot of his younger self in the guy. MacKenzie eventually comes around, too, even becoming McDonough’s roommate.

This prolonged introduction to the tragic denouement comes across as a ninety-minute exhibition of testosterone-fueled machismo and semi-rude behavior, interspersed with homely moments between members of the squad and the women they leave behind for long stretches as they go off to do battle with another blaze. The emphasis on McDonough’s little daughter might have more cynical viewers rolling their eyes at the plethora of reaction shots, while the scenes between Brolin and Connelly—in which they argue, for instance, about whether to have a kid of their own—come across as labored background, even if you appreciate the attempt to give Amanda some dramatic weight.

Then, of course, comes the fire at Yarnell, and the Granite Mountain Hotshots are called in to collaborate with other groups in dealing with it. On June 30, 2013, two days after the fire had started, nineteen of them were trapped when the winds suddenly changed and the fire cut off their retreat route. The lone survivor was McDonough, whom Marsh had ordered to be the squad’s lookout man on a ridge some distance away, and who was rescued by a member of another Hotshot team.

This latter section of the film is well executed, without undue exaggeration or excessive special effects. It has a genuine feel, neither ratcheting up the excitement for spurious impact nor descending into mawkishness. The tragedy is presented soberly, although inevitably the aftermath is dealt with more melodramatically. One has to admire the relative sense of discretion—much more pronounced than was the case with “Deepwater Horizon,” which definitely aimed for the jugular—though, it musd be said, it mostly hit the target. Even here, though, there are moments that you might wish had been excised—particularly the motif of a bear fleeing from a blaze that Marsh uses as a metaphor for an out-of-control fire.

Most of the guys in the unit remain pretty thin characters, except for Kitsch’s MacKenzie, who provides the brunt of the comic relief, and James Badge Dale as Jesse Steed, Marsh’s second-in-command. But Brolin brings Marsh to life as a gruff, no-nonsense John Wayne type, and Teller, softening the jerk persona he’s cultivated before (and repeats in the early stages here), adds a layer of softness to the reformed McDonough that’s actually somewhat touching. Connelly makes Amanda as hard-nosed as her husband, and Bridges contributes his usual oversized temperament to Steinbrink—his pain at the close is palpable. Technically the picture is a solid job, with cinematographer Claudio Miranda using the New Mexican locations well and Joseph Trapanese’s score less overbearing than it might have been.

The good thing about “Only the Brave” is that it’s a respectful tribute to the dedication of first responders who put their own lives on the line to save others. As such, it deserves a modicum of respect itself. Overall, though, its emphasis on John Fordish male camaraderie and formulaic domestic discord in the leadup to its fiery finale makes for a picture that’s more competent than outstanding.

THE FOREIGNER

Producer: Jackie Chan, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Arthur Sarkissian, Qi Jianhong, Claire Kupchak, Scott Lumpkin, Jamie Marshall and Cathy Shulman
Director: Martin Campbell
Writer: David Marconi
Stars: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Ray Fearon, Orla Brady, Tao Liu, Charlie Murphy, Katherine Davies, David Pearse, Rufus Jones, Katie Leung and Nial McNamee
Studio: STX Entertainment

B-

There’s long line of movies about fathers who seek vengeance against those who have harmed their wives or daughters (or both), and in “The Foreigner” Jackie Chan, of all people, follows in the footsteps of the likes of the Charles Bronson of the “Death Wish” series and the Liam Neeson of “Taken.” He plays a London restaurateur, Ngoc Minh Quan, who was trained by US Special Forces during the Vietnam War and later endured the death of his wife and two of his daughters at the hands of Thai pirates as they tried to escape the communist regime. (To be honest, the details of Quan’s backstory are a mite hazy, being delivered late in the picture via some quick exposition and flashbacks.)

In any event, the old fellow has one daughter left, on whom he dotes—Fan (Katie Leung), a high schooler he talks with about her plans for the prom before dropping her off at a restaurant, which is promptly bombed, killing her and a dozen others. The perpetrators identify themselves as a splinter group of the IRA, and the grieving father, deciding to use his old skills to avenge himself on Fan’s killers, hones in on Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), an erstwhile IRA leader now serving as a deputy minister in the Belfast government, as the man who can give him the names of the bombers. Leaving the restaurant in the hands of loyal family friend Lam (Tao Liu), he’s off to Northern Ireland to confront Hennessy. And when the politician tells him he doesn’t have the names, Quan gives him a warning shot by blowing up the lavatory beside his opulent office.

That sends Hennessy—and his many men—on a hunt for Quan, who is always one step ahead of his pursuers, even after Liam goes, along with his wife Mary (Orla Brady), to their farm. Quan even tracks Hennessy to a liaison with his young mistress Maggie (Charlie Murphy) and takes a photograph of them together, which he threatens to release to the press. And he has more bombs to plant in order to force the politician to reveal those names.

Hennessy, meanwhile, is caught in a struggle involving various IRA factions and the British government, which he is trying to placate by identifying the perpetrators while persuading his ministerial boss to release some imprisoned IRA members as a goodwill gesture. Among those he will involve in his queries are his old IRA ally Kavanagh (Michael McElhatton) and his own nephew Sean (Rory Fleck Byrne), who, as an erstwhile British soldier in Iraq, can perhaps track Quan down in the woods adjacent to the Hennessy farm while brokering a cooperative arrangement with the young man’s old commander, Richard Bromley (Ray Fearon), who is now heading the British investigation of the bombing.

The IRA side of the plot, which grows increasing complex—involving betrayal of both a professional and personal kind (the mob doings of “The Sopranos” had nothing on these IRA conflicts) comes to take up more and more screen time, leaving Quan offscreen for long sections of the picture as Brosnan assumes center stage. Still, while the erstwhile James Bond fumes, bristles and bellows effectively (downing what appears to be gallons of whiskey in the process), Chan, though mostly relegated to dour, depressed close-ups, gets the opportunity to engage in periodic martial-arts sequences with Hennessy’s men, and finally to confront Fan’s murderers. The mano-a-mano action is well directed by Martin Campbell, an old hand at that sort of thing (he helmed two Bond pictures, including “GoldenEye” with Brosnan as well as the 2006 “Casino Royale”), though it must be admitted that as shot by cinematographer David Tattersall and edited by Angela M. Catanzaro, it looks a bit murky and unclear, almost as if some of the details of the fights were being deliberately obscured.

Otherwise the film makes good use of the UK locations, and the tech team stages the explosions that punctuate the picture efficiently. The supporting cast adds a sense of authenticity to the goings-on as well, with McElhatton and Byrne standing out in the large ensemble. The Ulster government might not be too pleased with how it is depicted—at least in terms of the machinations among the various ex-IRA factions (and the intimation that they’ve kept weapons stocks hidden). But the British intelligence service, while depicted as quite efficient, might also be displeased at the implication that they are very willing to overlook legal niceties in their treatment of terrorists.

“The Foreigner” is in many respects a fairly conventional paternal revenge movie, gussied up with some oddly anachronistic political machinations, but it’s well-made and offers its stars some chances to shine. It’s certainly to be preferred to “The American,” with George Clooney, although a double bill would make for a nicely symmetrical marquee.