Only the Brave (2017)

brave1Sometimes, expectations are everything: Only the Brave is a frustrating film. Oh, its sincere enough, and a noble attempt at telling its true story with respect and surprising restraint- this isn’t the huge Hollywood effects spectacle that might be expected. It just doesn’t, sadly, ignite (sic). Its such a strange thing- competently staged and with a really great cast (Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly)… actually, maybe that cast is the problem, maybe its just too good a cast, with too much cinematic baggage behind them that carries all sorts of expectations in itself.

I was surprised to see that it was directed by Joseph Kosinski,  of Tron: Legacy and Oblivion fame, as that in itself would suggest a big, spectacular and horrifying canvas would be put up on the screen but Kosinski seems to deliberately play against those expectations. Its just a different sort of movie than his previous films might suggest. Yeah, there’s those confounded expectations again.

But it isn’t an intimate character-driven piece either, possibly because those big-name actors, or that visually-adept director, aren’t exactly an arthouse cinema bunch. Its therefore caught somewhere in-between, and so intent on treating the real events and people caught up in them with proper due respect that the film just… exists, without really saying anything.

It reminds me rather a great deal of The 33, another film based on true events that impacted on a reasonably large group. While Only the Brave mostly centers upon Josh Brolin’s character, it also tries to flesh out the rest of  the Granite Mountain Hotshots that he leads in the firefighting, and like The 33, the film suffers from not having enough time, or perhaps the script isn’t finely honed enough, to do so many characters justice.

I don’t know, its really a strange one. Its a good film, but it just lacks that essential spark, if you’ll forgive one more fire metaphor. I’m tempted to suggest the issue may lie with the score, funnily enough. I just find myself thinking of the film Glory, and James Horner’s magnificent score. Sure the music and the film were perhaps overly manipulative but the combination of film and music involved me, made me feel something.  I didn’t really feel anything with Only the Brave; I enjoyed it and found it very worthwhile but it didn’t engage me emotionally. It might seem odd to suggest blame lies with the music score but film music isn’t what it used to be, and the industry has lost something of the genius of the likes of Goldsmith and Horner and that kind of film music, no longer in vogue, certainly worked back in the day.

So a missed opportunity then, unfortunately, but certainly a sincere enough effort.

Noah (2014)

noahNoah is a remarkable, but rather flawed, film. For most of its running time its quite fascinating but also jaw-droppingly clunky and dumb, as if the sheer scale of the thing was too much for director Darren Aronofsky. Big budgets and huge scale can very often be at odds with intimacy and artistic vision. Everything seems huge and loud and spectacular, losing the focus of character and insight that made earlier films like The Fountain feel so personal. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is the simple fact that it even got made, and then released in the version we now see -a case of a director getting away with a wildly ambitious project hot on the heels of a successful  release (in this case, Aronofsky’s hit thriller Black Swan).

The ecology/environment and religious dogma/mania, were major themes in Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, and I think its a pity Aronofsky didn’t get to work out his anxieties on those subjects in a film of Dune instead of Noah. Because Noah is the Biblical story by way of a science fiction blockbuster. We are in a destroyed world with the existence of a Creator being Fact rather than any matter of Faith. Giant rock monsters walk the Earth, literal Fallen Angels, and the Wrath of God is Absolute and unwavering. There is no forgiveness or love from the Heavens, only a Divine Retribution for the transgressions of an entire species. Noah (Russell Crowe) acts as an unquestioning agent of God’s purpose, even to the point of  being willing to sacrifice his own family.

There is a subtext running throughout regards just how crazy Noah himself is, reminding me of the more successful/subtle depiction of madness in Black Swan, but its also clear that with a nominal reverence to the subject matter the film isn’t out to beat-up/character assassinate Noah to any great degree. Its notable that from the very start, Noah is one apart from the rest of his fellow men- he is alienated from common society, he and his family on the Outside. Is he chosen by the Creator because Noah is an environmentalist or because Noah is outside of the Common Man, a Biblical Travis Bickle? NOAHDisenfranchised, alienated, living a rather aimless existence of day-to-day survival, he is quick to seize the opportunity of Purpose, particularly Divine Purpose. I kept watching the film wondering if some comment was being made about Religious Dogma in our modern world and the resultant fragmented societies and violence we see on the news everyday, but I guess that’s some other, smaller-scaled movie less interested in assaulting our senses with spectacle. I certainly appreciated some of the commentary (even though its coming from crazed Bad Guy Ray Winstone and therefore not aired in positive light) regards Man’s relationship with the Creator and his place in a world abandoned by that Creator -its interesting, and somewhat telling,  that God is always referred to as the ‘Creator’ rather than as ‘God’ (as if its one of Prometheus‘ engineers doing some Monday afternoon terraforming causing the Flood),so as to perhaps not offend viewers of non-Christian faith.

The supporting cast is sadly wasted. Jennifer Connelly never convinces- she just doesn’t look right.  Its not really her fault; she’s just too beautiful, her teeth too perfect and white, she looks too much the modern Hollywood Goddess, less the long-suffering life-worn middle-aged mother of three in a blighted, desolate world. The years pass by and Noah goes grey and wrinkly but Connelly hardly seems to change at all, something that seems increasingly ridiculous as the film passes. Its like something out of Old Hollywood’s Glamour Days. Anthony Hopkins just seems to mildly ham it up as he does these days in any picture, while Ray Winstone seems to be reprising his  Beowulf.

I realise I may seem rather disparaging regards this film. It is by no means a bad film. It just might have been something more. Certainly there are some thrilling moments of genuine brilliance during the film. A section where Noah recounts the history of creation, voicing the Biblical story of Genesis whilst the imagery depicts our modern scientific view of it,  is a spellbinding sequence of almost storybook cgi. Personal highlight for me though is a sequence shortly after the storm has hit- Noah and his family are sheltering in the storm-tossed Ark, tormented by the screams of the thousands dying out in the ocean waste. An exterior shot of  thousands of desperate survivors clinging to a mountain top, assaulted by the maddened waves, is one of the most haunting visuals of any film I have seen this year or last and worth the price of entry alone.