Only the Brave is the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the first municipal team of hotshot firefighters in the U.S., and their efforts to combat the tragic 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire near their home base in Prescott, AZ. It’s a powerful tale of bravery and brotherhood, heroism and heartbreak, that isn’t easily shaken.
Josh Brolin stars as fire superintendent Eric Marsh, who is trying to get his Prescott squad certified as hotshots -- a 20-man Type 1 handcrew of wildland firefighters who battle blazes on the front lines instead of being regulated to the rear of the action. They’re qualified, but getting the town to fund such a group is another matter. They eventually clear that hurtle with help from fire chief Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges, always welcome) and are elevated to elite status, but it comes with a price: more time away from family as the outfit is called upon to help with fires across the U.S.
Although the crew consists of 20 guys, the movie smartly zeroes in on just three of them. Aside from Marsh -- who is happily married to Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), a horse whisperer of sorts -- there’s fun-loving jokester Christopher MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch), and recovering drug addict and new dad Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), nicknamed Donut. Director Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion, Tron: Legacy), working from a sharply focused script by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, showcases the men’s lighthearted, easygoing camaraderie in the film’s early stages, but later burrows beneath it to expose their longings and fears: Eric and Amanda collide over whether to have children, MacKenzie faces a future alone when his live-in girlfriend cheats on him, and McDonough slowly realizes and embraces the responsibilities of fatherhood. Along the way, we get to know and care about these men, which makes their fate even more agonizing when it inevitably comes.
Only the Brave culminates, of course, with the Yarnell fire (which is caused by a lightning strike). Initially, it is unimpressive, but it quickly becomes unpredictable as gusty winds change course, pushing the blaze across dry terrain toward Marsh’s men. What happens next is unthinkable; suffice it to say, you’ll need plenty of tissues on hand. All of which sounds like one downer of a movie. It isn’t. On the contrary, the film is a joyous celebration of these men’s ordinary, yet remarkable lives and their courageous efforts to protect other people’s lives, homes, and property.
Brolin and Connelly have rarely been better. Their scenes together are white-hot, ablaze with raw human emotion. Kitsch plays the goofball perfectly, providing the story with much needed levity, while Teller continues to prove what a versatile actor he is, fully believable whether portraying a junkie, dedicated firefighter, or devoted dad.
Only the Brave avoids hagiography and doesn’t paint the Granite Mountain Hotshots as superheroes. They are flawed men -- some of whom are real screwups at times -- but this only makes them more relatable and makes their efforts on the front lines of firefighting all the more super and heroic.
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- Released: 2017
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Only the Brave is the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the first municipal team of hotshot firefighters in the U.S., and their efforts to combat the tragic 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire near their home base in Prescott, AZ. It’s a powerful tale of bra… (more)