Only the Brave (2006) - DVD Mar 6, 2011 11:45:44 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Mar 6, 2011 11:45:44 GMT -5
Most movies are made for the sole purpose of being, "Entertainment." They are meant to be a couple of hours that divert the attention of the viewer away from the normal stresses of their lives and take them on a fun, enjoyable ride.
Some movies, however, are more important - they tell a story that needs to be told. They tell stories that either aren't known, or that are known, but not to the extent that they should be. They are also meant to entertain, but just as much as that they are meant to enlighten and educate.
Only the Brave is that kind of movie.
It is an important story that hadn't been told on the big screen in fifty-five years prior to the release of this film. It is a story of which most Americans are unaware (unfortunately). Also unfortunate is the fact that this movie couldn't get significant backing for production and distribution. Even so, it was only through the determination of a few key people (including writer, director, star Lane Nishikawa and producers Karen Criswell, Eric Hayashi, and Jay Kowai) that the film was made at all.
So what is Only the Brave about?
It's about Americans who were fighting for their country - despite the fact that they and their family members were imprisoned in internment or, "War Relocation," camps during World War II. American men of Japanese descent volunteered to fight in the European theater to defend their country's interests, and to stop fascists from taking full control of Europe (which would have been a huge blow to the security of the United States). They were fighting for their country just like everyone else, and they did so with the utmost courage and conviction.
But they were segregated into their own units (all part of the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team - the most decorated during the war) and often sent on the most dangerous missions.
Only the Brave tells the story of one of those missions.
With an American unit (a group from Texas) trapped behind enemy lines the 100th/442nd was called in to break through enemy lines and give them support and supply lines. Basically, they were called in to save the day. Along the way the 100th/44nd suffered huge losses, but they never wavered in their determination to see the mission to it's successful end.
Lane Nishikawa's script does a very good job of fleshing out some of the men who were involved. Yes, this is a fictionalized account of a true story, so the individual stories are fiction, but they are based on the kind of people and events actually involved. This may be fiction, but it is very close to the reality of what happened.
Intermixed with the military mission are flashbacks - presented as the memories of the men involved in the mission. Sometimes the flashbacks are told straight, as, "Normal," flashback scenes would be. Sometimes, however, the flashbacks are more surreal - mixing the military mission with the memories. These flashbacks (or memories) are mostly successful (as both entertainment and motivation for the characters), and many of these scenes are actually the highlights of the movie.
In truth, the one real weakness of the script is that it focuses a little too much on the military mission and the men during the war, and not enough on the lives they led before going to war. Their wives, families, and girlfriends are wonderful characters (and they are loosely based, again, on real people - the kind of people who really were left behind). The movie shines when these people are on the screen. The drama is fantastic, but unfortunately fairly short lived each time. I found myself wanting more of these stories. I wanted to see more about their families and the lives these men lived before they were sent to fight (and possibly die). What did they give up? How did they do it? (Most of them were volunteers.)
The movie needed more of that to be elevated to the highest level of entertainment. Perhaps they just didn't have the budget for another 10 minutes showing the soldiers' home lives before the war, or perhaps Nishikawa wanted the focus on the men during the war. Either way, it's a shame that more of that compelling backstory wasn't told in Only the Brave. It is some fantastic, dramatic stuff to watch.
Which isn't to say that the movie isn't good the way it is - because it is good. It just could have been even better.
Only the Brave is a well made movie. Nishikawa's script is good, and the acting is top notch throughout (and it's nice to see the typical Japanese stereotypes and forced accents we often see and hear in Hollywood movies thrown out and replaced with the reality that these were Americans who talked and acted like most everyone else in their communities). The cast is uniformly good without a weak performance in the bunch (the only performance that disappoints somewhat is that of Pat Noriyuki Morita in one of his final roles, but that's largely due to the way his part was scripted).
Lane Nishikawa has a commanding presence and a great voice for the narration, and cast members like Jason Scott Lee, Yuji Okumoto, and Ken Narasaki have real charisma and personality. Back at home we see the amazinly beautiful Tamlyn Tomita doing what she does best - acting and showing some real emotion. She is an amazingly talented actress, and one of the most stunninly beautiful women on screen over the last twenty-five years. She is a huge asset to any film she appears in, and this one is no exception. She manages to convey both intelligence and compassion in a way that comes across as real - as genuine - rather than just acting and reading lines from a script.
Actually, almost everyone in Only the Brave comes across as genuine, and I would suspect that for many in the cast this was a very personal movie that meant a lot to them. And understandably so. They managed to keep that emotion at a level that didn't get overblown or over-emoted on screen, giving the film a realistic, authentic feel.
As for Nishikawa's direction it's fairly good. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be unevenly good. At times he did a fantastic job, while at others the movie looks like a well produced TV miniseries. The overuse of the hand held shaky cam doesn't help, but fortunately those shots are not as frequent as they could have been. Overall, Nishikawa's direction is good and he does a fine job of telling the story visually. (There are some very nice shots in the film.)
Ultimately, Only the Brave is a good movie with a very important story that needed to be told. As a historical film it successfully conveys what these men went through - and shows that the Japanese Americans who were held in those internment camps were truly not the enemy. They were Americans just like everyone else, and they had real lives that were disrupted by the war (moreso than most Americans due to their imprisonment in the camps). Only the Brave is as important a film as were Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. These films should all be required viewing for American high school students.
But Only the Brave is a movie. As important as this story may be it is a movie and therefore a form of entertainment. As such it's job is to entertain first and foremost, and on that level Only the Brave succeeds.
It is on the level above that - the importance of conveying historic events that have been largely forgotten outside of the Japanese American community - where Only the Brave is an even bigger success.
Well done. Only the Brave is compelling, entertaining, and well worth watching.
The DVD is of average picture quality for a recent movie. The contrast and shadow detail is good, although there is a digital graininess that occasionally appears. It's not bad (and isn't all that unlike what we saw in the much larger budgeted Saving Private Ryan), and doesn't really detract at all from the viewing experience. The sound quality is excellent (not a big surprise for a recent movie), and the extras are nice (if a bit short - the behind the scenes featurette could have been more, "Behind the scenes," giving more details of how the movie got made and the process involved, but what is here is pretty good).
Movie - 4/5
DVD - 3.5/5
The movie can be purchased through Amazon.com or through the
official movie website (which also has a lot of interesting information about the film):