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Only the Brave (Blu-ray) (2017)
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Details At A Glance
Featurette-Honoring the Heroes: The True Stories
Featurette-Boot Camp: Becoming a Hotshot
Featurette-Behind the Brotherhood: The Characters
Music Video-"Hold the Light"
Featurette-Behind the Music Video
Year Of Production
||Cast & Crew
James Badge Dale
NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.
One of the most underrated and overlooked motion pictures of 2017, Only the Brave provides a group-biopic account of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, whose story is ideal fodder for the big screen. Only the Brave's plot is admittedly Hallmark movie-of-the-week boilerplate and, in the hands of less sophisticated filmmakers, could have been packed with melodrama as well as forced tear-wringing. However, director Joseph Kosinski fortunately avoids the temptation, shaping an achingly poignant tribute to firefighters and real-life heroism, paying attention to character complexity as opposed to pure spectacle. Some aspects of the narrative are admittedly familiar, but performances are excellent, dialogue is engaging, and the technical presentation is top-flight, which is what matters the most in a production of this ilk. Not knowing the outcome of the story does result in a more devastating emotional kick, though it will almost certainly still work for those with full knowledge of the events that befell the Granite Mountain Hotshots at Yarnell Hill. The furthest thing from a simple, corny Hollywood action movie, Only the Brave is a compelling, powerful feature which must be seen and is impossible to forget.
A Fire and Rescue superintendent, Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) seeks to earn a hotshot certification for his firefighting crew of Prescott, Arizona, and become the first municipal hotshot unit in the country. Frustrated with only observing wildfires from afar and being ignored, Eric turns to city fire chief Duane (Jeff Bridges) and the Mayor (Forrest Fyre) to support his certification aspirations. Needing to expand his crew to make this dream a reality, Eric takes on new recruits, including ex-junkie Brendan (Miles Teller) who recently became a father, was kicked out of home, and is trying to straighten up his problematic life. Through the efforts of Eric's crew, including Brendan, Jesse (James Badge Dale) and Chris (Taylor Kitsch), the unit achieves certification status, rechristening themselves as the Granite Mountain Hotshots. However, hotshot status means the responsibility of frequently fighting fires around the state, which takes the men away from their families - Eric's wife Amanda (Jennifer Connolly) wants to have a child but finds his priorities misplaced, while Brendan spends too much time away from his baby daughter.
With a screenplay credited to Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, adapted from the 2013 GQ article "No Exit" by Sean Flynn, Only the Brave does take liberties with history to generate a more dramatically satisfying motion picture. Most notably, the movie shows the same team working together for years, but the Granite Mountain Hotshots saw a frequent turnover as people came and left. But other elements of the narrative are factual, particularly the story of Brendan, whose true-to-life arc is so perfect for a motion picture that it feels manufactured. A bulk of the narrative is framed through Brendan's eyes, observing him on the job and revealing his struggles as he adapts to fatherhood. Furthermore, since Brendan is a new recruit, we meet the other team members through him, generating an effective team dynamite and an outstanding camaraderie with Chris. Only the Brave is structured like an old-fashioned biographical movie, running a beefy 130 minutes as it takes care of necessary character and story development, not to mention it allows us to adequately understand what the Hotshots actually do and how they operate. Miraculously, although the movie is long, nothing feels superfluous.
Only the Brave was helmed by Joseph Kosinski, late of sci-fi/fantasy pictures Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, yet he wisely dials down his garish directorial tendencies to construct a distinctly earthbound story closer that feels closer to a Peter Berg movie. Instead of presenting the fire-fighting sequences as overblown digital effects spectacles, the set-pieces are effectively realistic and matter-of-fact, befitting the source material. Kosinski demonstrates incredible range as he navigates dramatic and emotional scenes, imbuing the material with genuine substance. Furthermore, Only the Brave progresses at such a patient, measured pace that we are left unprepared for the climactic events, rendering them all the more devastating. Backed by a modest $38 million budget, the picture looks spectacular from top to bottom, with gorgeous cinematography and an almost seamless mix of practical and digital effects to sell the illusion of raging wildfires, accentuated with a hypnotic yet understated score by Joseph Trapanese (Straight Outta Compton). Kosinski is no stranger to visual effects, but he never loses sight of the characters here, making the sequences intense, visceral and above all tasteful. The foregone conclusion is still incredibly distressing to behold, thanks to the patient character development and the real danger that the fire presents. In addition, at no point does Kosinski feel the need to linger on gory content, keeping within the confines of a PG-13 rating without the movie feeling needlessly neutered. Perhaps Peter Berg could have brought a tad more immediacy to the material, but this is not to impugn Kosinski's efforts in any significant way.
Brolin is tailor-made for roles such as this, and he is note-perfect as Marsh. Instead of mugging for potential Oscar glory, the actor finds a way to underplay the heroic character, coming across as completely authentic in the process. It's a superb, perfectly judged performance imbued with humanity and emotion, ably carrying the movie. Furthermore, whereas most productions would settle for a one-dimensional wife character, Amanda Marsh has depth and plays a considerable role in the story, not to mention Connolly delivers a powerhouse performance. Just as terrific is Bridges, while it's fascinating to see Taylor Kitsch in something genuinely good for a change. (Remember when Kitsch was meant to be Hollywood's next big thing? The consecutive flops of John Carter and Battleship put the kibosh on that.) Teller, meanwhile, is only intermittently tolerable in movies (his highest point being 2014's Whiplash), and it seems appropriate to cast him as a loser who gets his a*** kicked throughout the second act in order to earn the right to be perceived as likeable and worth caring about once the climax arrives. Impressively, Teller convincingly pulls off the transformation from low-life dope-head into a hard-working, respectful tough guy. James Badge Dale is also here playing Marsh's second-in-command, because he is ostensibly required by Hollywood law to feature in all movies like this.
First and foremost, Only the Brave is a story about the men who fight fires, rather than the flames themselves. Admittedly, the narrative does feel slightly erratic due to its episodic nature - the fateful Yarnell Hill Fire is not introduced until the third act, and the movie does not build up to it throughout; rather, the event feels like just another fire. This story is episodic, observing the crew as they train, ply their trade, and deal with their personal lives, with amusing banter and humour to make the characters more relatable and human. Like Peter Berg's Deepwater Horizon, Only the Brave did not receive a fair shake at the box office, unable to even earn back its modest budget, but it will stand the test of time and it's fortunate that the movie exists. Hard-hitting and visceral, Only the Brave is a masculine ugly-cry movie for the ages.
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Only the Brave arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Sony Home Entertainment, with an AVC-encoded, 1080p transfer ostensibly minted straight from the digital intermediate. A rarity in contemporary cinema, the movie was shot at 4K resolution with digital Sony CineAlta F65 cameras, and completed natively at 4K with High Dynamic Range. Although a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray was originally planned, the terrible box office returns led to the release being cancelled, but a 4K release is currently scheduled for an October release in Germany that I'll be importing. Only the Brave is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (an open matte IMAX edition was also authored, but ostensibly will never be released on disc) across a dual-layered BD-50, maintaining a superb average video bitrate approaching 31 Mbps, and benefitting from a characteristically strong video encode (presumably the same performed by Sony for the United States release). After reviewing other digitally-shot motion pictures on Blu-ray and finding them underwhelming, it's relieving to behold a competently-encoded presentation which shows the strengths of the format. It's not 4K, but it's not a DVD either.
Throughout the presentation, fine detail and textures are frequently outstanding, while the presentation often resolves a fine layer of source noise which takes on the appearance of film grain. Naturally, the noise is well-resolved, never taking on a distracting or blocky appearance, and it will likely only be noticed by those with larger TVs. Skin and clothing textures are outstanding, especially in brightly-lit scenes when you can discern every pore and whisker on Duane's face. Also see the close-ups of Marsh and Brendan as they converse at the 101-minute mark, which are outstanding (the bitrate also spikes near to 40 Mbps during those shots). Highlights are good for the most part, though shadow detail can be hit-and-miss. Indeed, the only area where the transfer visibly struggles is resolving textures under lower light or when heavy smoke is involved, which is likely attributable to the limited colour space of 1080p Blu-ray. (See the Hotshots sitting on a rock-face at the 72-minute mark.) Shots here and there lack refinement, while other shots are noticeably too smooth and even mildly smeary. These shots often coincide with a drop in video bitrate, which is unsurprising. However, an extended scene set inside a bar at the 84-minute mark resolves ample textures and source noise, looking better than anticipated. In terms of encoding shortcomings, I did notice some subtle moire patterning on backpack straps, as well as minor shimmering on safety equipment, car grills and roofs at various moments. However, these problematic shots are infrequent; the presentation soars for the most part, and other compression artefacts are kept at bay, such as banding and macroblocking. Furthermore, sharpness is top-notch - Marsh's facial hair is flawlessly refined, especially in close-ups, while the transfer reveals every piece of gravel, blade of grass, and instance of foliage. There are certain long shots of landscapes engulfed in flames, or even a shot of the crew at 77:45 standing in front of a fire, which boast superlative object delineation despite the intricate flames, embers and leaves in the frame.
The iTunes 4K Dolby Vision version only exhibits a slight uptick in textures and image definition, but streaming limitations do restrict the transfer quality. The most noticeable difference between the iTunes stream and this Blu-ray is that the colour palette is noticeably different. Indeed, the Dolby Vision edition looks somewhat desaturated on the whole while flames burst off the screen, presumably reflecting the intentions of the filmmakers. This 1080p Blu-ray, however, is more saturated, with a brighter colour palette. I would prefer to watch the movie with High Dynamic Range, but this Blu-ray nevertheless looks terrific from a colour perspective on its own terms. Skin tones are realistic, vegetation is lush and green, flames look scorching and orange, and blacks are sufficiently deep within the limitations of 1080p. You can feel the heat from the flames whenever characters get close to flames; see the climax. Scenes inside the hospital at the 80-minute mark look clinical and accurate, reflecting the real-life appearance of hospital rooms. The aftermath of wildfires look grim and grey, particularly towards the end of the movie. Contrast and balance is not always spot-on, however, and image depth is serviceable but unspectacular. In addition, certain windows and fires look somewhat blown out and lacking in specular highlights, whereas the HDR presentation on iTunes better handles these particular moments. The transfer also struggles to retain pitch-blacks at the 49-minute mark, when embers rise over a black sky. Nevertheless, most people probably won't even notice these issues, and it doesn't mar the transfer in any significant way since it's otherwise smooth sailing for the most part.
Only the Brave's Blu-ray does not quite contain "perfect" picture as the back cover boasts, but it's great nevertheless - it's doubtful the movie could look much better on a 1080p Blu-ray. It will tide me over until the German 4K Blu-ray shows up, at which point I will update the review with a short comparison. In spite of its minor flaws, the transfer is impressive and eminently watchable - it should please both videophiles and casual viewers alike.
Only English subtitles are included (for the hearing impaired). The track is well-formatted and easy to read, on top of being free of bothersome encoding errors or spelling/grammar mistakes.
Video Ratings Summary
According to technical information available on IMDb, Only the Brave was mixed in Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, two formats of object-based audio tracks that translate extremely well to a home cinema environment. However, for whatever reason, Universal Sony only supply a downgraded DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (the sole audio option on the disc), which is sure to draw the ire of audiophiles the world over, and for good reason. Sony's usual practise is to save the superior object-based mix for the 4K Blu-ray, but alas we unfortunately do not have this option, making the 5.1 mix all the more baffling. At the very least, the audio is 24-bit and the track is still exceptional on its own terms. With the lossless 24-bit encoding, the mix is crystal clear and never lacking in impact - it will certainly be deemed good enough for those with "only" 5.1 surround sound set-ups or soundbars, or those who settle for TV speakers.
The movie opens with a short beat set in a flaming forest, and the resulting soundscape sets the scene for what's to come. Sounds of flames and rumbling come from all surround speakers, with sounds isolated to specific channels for an immersive soundscape. At the 3-minute mark, when Marsh leaves his home, a couple of shots of Marsh travelling past the camera exhibit panning effects. The AC/DC music throughout this opening sequence is clear and full, while the subwoofer is used to accentuate the sounds of helicopter rotors, chainsaws and engines. And that's just the first few minutes of the movie. During smaller scenes, the surround channels are used for environmental ambience; bugs can be heard when Marsh is training his guys in the forest at the 39-minute mark, while subtle engine and vehicle noises come through when the crew are in a bus in the very next scene, and so on. Helicopters and planes can be heard in the distance or flying overhead during certain scenes, too. Joseph Trapanese's music comes through all channels with perfect clarity and precision, never overwhelming the dialogue. When Duane sings "Riders of the Sky" at the 84-minute mark, the live music performance is immersive, while panning effects ensure that Duane's voice comes from specific channels depending on the placement of a given shot. The subwoofer is put to great use throughout the movie, adding impact to falling trees, thunder, rumbling and flames. I never had any issues with prioritisation; even when the crew are on a helicopter, you can hear and comprehend the dialogue.
No encoding anomalies are evident throughout; no pops, clicks, sync issues or drop-outs. It's smooth sailing across the board. In a perfect world, Only the Brave gets an Atmos mix for home video, and with this in mind I am deducting half a star from the audio track. Rest assured, though, that this should be just fine for most folks, and there are no problematic shortcomings aside from a lack of channels.
Audio Ratings Summary
|Surround Channel Use|
Sans the audio commentary available on overseas releases, we are left with barely 25 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes, a music video, and a couple of deleted scenes. It's disappointing that the featurettes don't go further to delve into things like the VFX, sound mixing, the score, etc.
Honoring the Heroes: The True Stories (HD; 8:08) In this reasonably substantial featurette, the genesis of the production is covered. Several members of the cast and crew discuss the real-life story and the impact that the Yarnell Hill Fire tragedy had on them. The producers and writers delve into visiting Prescott to interview the families, while a number of the real people - including Brendan McDonagh and Amanda Marsh - mention their reluctance to get involved in the movie when it first entered development. On-set footage is also spliced throughout this extra as the interviewees stress the importance of getting the story right.
Boot Camp: Becoming a Hotshot (HD; 8:42) This extra explores the difficult tasks carried out by hotshots. Other firefighting movies like Ladder 49 focus on those who fight fire with water, but hotshots fight fire with fire by robbing it of fuel to prevent it from spreading to homes and communities. The actors playing the Granite Mountain Hotshots went through a brutal boot camp to experience what being a hotshot is like, and on-set footage reveals that the actors were really using the tools given to them, and really lighting small, controlled fires for maximum authenticity.
Behind the Brotherhood: The Characters (HD; 7:20) A closer look at the characters and their real-life counterparts. Amanda and Brendan speak about meeting Brolin and Teller, respectively, while several of the other men are discussed. A former Granite Mountain Hotshot even plays one of the guys on the crew for the movie. Again, everybody stresses the importance of doing it right and paying fitting tribute to these heroes.
Behind the Song: "Hold the Light" (HD; 2:42) In this short piece, Dierks Bentley talks about the song lyrics for "Hold the Light," as well as the impact that the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots had on him. This is actually a promotional segment produced for YouTube.
Music Video - "Hold the Light" (HD; 4:42) The music video for "Hold the Light," by Dierks Bentley Featuring S. Carey. Since the song was written to tie into the movie, there are plenty of film clips throughout. A nice inclusion, but I'll admit I didn't watch all of it.
Deleted Scenes (HD) There are two extended scenes here: "Blisters" (1:11) and "Eric Gets a Phone Call" (1:02). Both of these were wisely trimmed - the former feels a bit awkward, while the latter feels like superfluous information.
R4 vs R1
NOTE: To view
non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually
also NTSC compatible.
Compared to the United States release from Sony Pictures, the local disc misses out on:
There is no excuse for this exclusion. The American release wins hands down. The U.K. disc also has it. In fact, I believe Australia is the only territory to miss out. Import.
- Audio Commentary with Joseph Kosinski and Josh Brolin
Only the Brave is a masculine ugly-cry movie for the ages. It is far better than its appalling box office performance implies, and it should be on your radar.
The technical presentation of this Blu-ray is top-notch, with a beautifully-encoded video transfer and a crisp, powerful 5.1 audio track. The selection of extras is disappointing, particularly given the exclusion of the audio commentary. If audio commentaries matter to you, import from overseas. If 4K matters to you, import from overseas. For everyone else, this one comes recommended.
© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
|DVD||Sony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output|
This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver.
This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
|Amplification||Samsung Series 7 HT-J7750W|
|Speakers||Samsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up|