Sometimes a movie comes along at exactly the time it is needed, and that couldn’t be more true than in the case of Only The Brave, which tells the true and tragic story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite group of 20 Arizona-based firefighters who fought against all odds to contain the Yarnell Mountain fire in Prescott, AZ in 2013 with deadly results. Although the account of these real-life everyday heroes could be looked at as something of a downer, the film directed by Joseph Kosinski proves to be anything but that, as I say in my video review above. Instead, it is an inspiring and remarkable film tribute to these brave (indeed) men in a job that is often taken for granted, albeit one that puts you through the wringer at the same time it makes you feel proud.
Only The Brave, with a sharp screenplay by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, laser focuses on just a few of the men involved in charting the creation of this unit of fearless firefighters. They include their superintendent known as “Supe” Eric Marsh, played by Josh Brolin, who is really sensational in a role he completely embodies. He basically puts these guys through their paces in order to get them to the elevated level of “hotshots,” the elite of the elite. The training sequences are great, particularly involving a down-on-his-heels recruit named Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) affectionately referred to as “Donut.” He’s a key figure in the story and comes to the unit after a troubled past he is trying to put behind him. He’s not exactly a prime candidate for the group, but as the film shows, redemption can be a good thing for a hotshot. Others given decent screen time are James Badge Dale as Marsh’s second in command, and Taylor Kitsch who is every bit as effective as he was in Lone Survivor which also dealt with men in these kinds of enormously challenging life-threatening events.
The film ultimately centers on the Yarnell fire, which at first doesn’t seem to be a huge threat but quickly turns into something terrifyingly out of control. Some errors played a part in finding the hotshots caught in the middle of what eventually happened as it became one of the worst fires ever in terms of casualties, and it is all presented in nail-biting fashion. It is almost at times overwhelmingly emotional and sad, but overall the film tries to focus on the brotherhood of these mostly very young men, their camaraderie, and their all-for-one attitude. We see them on the job and at play as we get to know them along the way.
It is a tricky proposition when you make a movie out of a tragedy like this one, but Kosinski keeps his eye just as much on the people who fight it as the impressively re-created fire itself, and that is key not only to what makes it work as a great and exciting film about courage and duty, but also as a harrowing and gripping account of what makes real heroes — these hotshots are unforgettable. The cast also includes a very fine Jeff Bridges as the fire chief and confidante to Brolin’s Marsh, as well as Jennifer Connelly in a gut-wrenching turn as Amanda, Marsh’s wife who is also a healer of damaged horses. The personal toll these men and their families go through is nicely etched in well-played scenes between Brolin and Connelly. Andie MacDowell is also in for a few scenes as Bridges’ wife.
The technical credits across the board are first rate with superb cinematography from Claudio Miranda, tight editing from Billy Fox, and a stirring score by Joseph Trapanese. There’s also a terrific original song, “Hold The Light,” performed by country star Dierks Bentley and effectively played over images on the end credits of the real-life hotshots and their families. It is truly hold-back-the tears-time in a solidly made film that never panders for them. Producers are Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Molly Smith, Trent Luckinbill, Thad Luckinbill (who also appears on screen as one of the hotshots), Michael Menchel, Dawn Ostroff and Jeremy Steckler. Sony picked up the film (originally to be released via Lionsgate) and will open it Friday through its Columbia Pictures label.
Do you plan to see Only The Brave? Let us know what you think.