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Only The Brave by Joseph Trapanese (Review)

posted Oct 19, 2017, 7:16 PM by Kaya Savas

Joseph Kosinski made his directorial debut with TRON: Legacy, and even though Daft Punk were the credited composers of the movie there was another important player by the name of Joseph Trapanese. Trapanese was the music arranger and orchestrator on TRON: Legacy, because let me tell you right now that Daft Punk didn’t know how to work with an orchestra. Trapanese was then credited as a co-composer on Kosinski’s Oblivion when he had to work with another French synth band, this time Anthony Gonzalez from M83. Now with Kosinski’s third feature, Trapanese has full control over the score, and it operates at the same level of excellence as his past work with Kosinski. Only The Brave tells the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of firefighters that lost a number of their brotherhood when they took on the Yarnell Hill Fire. In a sea of many true story films, Only The Brave gets things right from start to finish and becomes not only Trapanese’s best score of his career so far but also one of the best of this year.

Movies based on true stories are a dime a dozen, and so are ones based on real-life tragic events. We’ve seen a bunch of them recently such as Deepwater Horizon, Everest, The Impossible, and many more. Only The Brave seems rather timely too, at least here in California where wildfires are currently destroying homes and taking lives. In fact, as I write this, the mountains just a few blocks up from where I live are still charred from a recent fire. Filmmakers and composers have taken different approaches on how to handle dramatizing real events that took real human life. It’s a careful line you have to walk because in one sense you are creating something to engage an audience, but you’re also trying to remain respectful to the people involved. What Kosinski and Trapanese did here was not hold back at all, but the music never crosses the line into exploitation either. So in the end we have this perfectly balanced and toned narrative that is so intense and so somber without ever making us feel that things are being glorified.

When the story starts, the score does a great job of establishing tone and style. There is a warmth to the music, but you already feel the solemn and somber tone being embedded into it. The score doesn’t start off by stating “everything is okay!”. We know things are going to get bad, and the score knows that too. The music is setting us up for what’s to come, not in a foreshadowing way, but in a comforting bedside manner type of way. The score then spends a good amount of time building the relationships between the men, and you sense the strength and the bond between them. The story is a masculine one that revolves around brotherhood, but the music is not overtly infused with testosterone by any means. The gravitas and weight of the music comes from how perfectly Trapanese approaches the tone along with the subtle thematic work. Our theme and motifs aren’t bold heroic melodies, everything feels so organic and human rather than something you'd hear in a superhero movie. This first act of the score is so strong and it’s essential because once we move into the firefighting we actually care.

The score never becomes an action score, the roaring flames are not accompanied by kinetic percussion and pulsing strings. Everything stays extremely heavy and brooding when danger is there. And like a fire, the music grows and swells. Long builds that get bigger and louder overtake and bring chills down your spine as your eyes well up. And while some of our heroes fall in this film, the score doesn’t become “sad”. There’s a haunting beauty that is there from the first to last note, and it’s very true that if something very sad is happening onscreen then the music should somehow find beauty. The beauty doesn’t comment on the death, but rather the life and it only makes the images more powerful. Just think of scenes that have made you cry in the past, whether they are joyous or tragic there’s a good chance that the music pinpoints beauty.

Only The Brave is a beautiful and somber score that is able to build an incredible amount of emotional depth and weight. Joseph Trapanese nails the tone of this narrative from start to finish, and the result is music that builds the characters together as one to show them as the people they are. The score doesn’t glorify heroism or make these characters out to be untouchable heroes, and that is why it’s so damn effective. The score paints these people as people we’d know at work, at the bar, as our neighbors. The music is so heavy yet so intimate, and it's masterfully crafted to work in slow builds. By the end of it, after you’ve gotten to know these men and see them sacrifice themselves to battle roaring nature to protect others, you feel a sense of calm. This score is very much an internal reflection about life in the face of death, and it’s what makes it such a perfect fit for this story.