‘Only the Brave’ is the biographical drama that tells the fateful true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a unit of trained wildfire control men who lost their lives during the Yarnell Hill Fire in Yarnell, Arizona back in 2013. It is the second greatest loss of firefighter life in the United States since the attacks of 9/11. With a film of this nature, it can be an easy mistake to misinterpret real life people, and even come off as exploitative as a Hollywood project. Director Joseph Kosinski keeps a sensitive dedication to the story that runs deep through its characters and its heart.
The story begins in Prescott, Arizona where a team of forest firefighters are training under the wing of their chief, Eric Marsh, played magnificently by Josh Brolin. The team work hard to get certified to become the country’s first municipal hotshot crew. The term ‘hotshot’ refers to the crew first in line to stabilize forest areas that are on fire. With the inevitable event that this film was based on, the film decides to spend its time capturing our hearts through the stories of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
The film is in no way manipulative of its true events, and I loved that. Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer wrote the script with real life emotions in mind. It was careful to let the characters strengthen the film. Miles Teller embodies Brendan McDonough, the lone survivor of the Yarnell Hill Fire. We follow Brendan through the first part of the film getting to know his struggles with addiction and the sudden news that he’s going to have a daughter. He decides to turn his life around and join the firefighter crew to the doubt of Chief Eric Marsh. Teller proves to be one of Hollywood’s promising young actors. Could the man be in his prime? It’s safe to say so. He just doesn’t quit. Through Brolin’s performance as Marsh, and Jennifer Connelly’s performance as his wife and widow Amanda Marsh, it took the film to a whole new level. Passing its halfway point, we begin to see and understand the character arcs even better. Connelly gives an outstanding and heart breaking act during a scene where Eric and Amanda have a sudden fallout argument in their truck one night. You can feel just how much of it is character driven. Sure, the pace of the story was a tad bit slow in the beginning of the film, but later redeems itself full heartedly.
The cast and crew worked closely with Brendan McDonough as a direct source. In interviews promoting the film, McDonough no longer expresses guilt for not being with his brothers, but gratitude for what can come out of things. ‘Only the Brave’ allowed for a spotlight on forest firefighters and those who put their safety on the line in order to secure that of their community’s. The cast was able to shed a lot of weight and be empowered through the performance in remembrance of the fallen. With the blessing of the families involved, the film was able to exemplify true heroism in light of these real personalities who were truly unforgettable. With excellent portrayals we also see the wildfires come to cinematic life with beautiful aerial cinematography by Claudio Miranda. His past work in ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘Oblivion’ have made him a dominant and worthy director of photography for this project. ‘Only the Brave’ shows us gorgeous mountain tops and a particularly scathing, but beautiful, side to Mother Nature. The environment within the film is warm, it’s dirty, and it’s raw.
There’s a strong sense of community and brotherhood tied into the film. These men were a family. With promising performances from James Badge Dale and Taylor Kitsch, we can feel the bonds get stronger as they spend more time in harm’s way. There was some shortage of performances of the crew that I’m not sure is too inexcusable. With a runtime of 133 minutes, the film remained in focus and was never truly dull for a moment.
‘Only the Brave’ is a well-driven salute to what real world heroism looks like. It is humbling and honest. The stories of these real heroes never miss a beat to tell it straight. It is not a story about chaotic wildfires, it is the incredible collective story of brotherhood and what it was to be one of the Hotshots. As the tagline reads, ‘It’s not what stands in front of you, it’s who stands beside you.’
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly, James Badge Dale