Movie Review: Only The Brave (2017)
Only The Brave, the account of The Granite Mountain Hotshots, opened this weekend to positive critical reviews. The film was directed by Joseph Kosinski, who is most known for his science fiction work in Tron: Legacy and Oblivion. The script was penned by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer and based on the GQ article “No Exit” by Sean Flynn. Josh Brolin portrays the head of the Hotshots, Eric Marsh, with Miles Teller portraying Hotshot Brendan McDonough. Taylor Kitsch and James Badge Dale also portrayed some of the Hotshots, and while not a part of the Hotshot firefighting team, Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly also play a major part in the story.
While the film follows the group that we know to become The Granite Mountain Hotshots, this is not where the story begins. The film begins with Eric Marsh (Brolin) and his team helping to fight fires as a “Type 2” firefighting crew where Marsh’s advice is disregarded by the Hotshot team in charge. When the nearby town ends up being evacuated, Marsh becomes even more determined to have his team certified as Hotshots. When a few openings become available, Marsh ends up extending a chance to Brendan McDonough (Teller), a former pothead with a petty record. McDonough works hard, and soon he finds himself a part of the brotherhood that makes up this team. As the film continues, the personal lives of the team are delved into and the team officially achieves the status of “Type 1” Hotshots. The story follows their many successes personally and professionally and ends with the Yarnell Hill Fire in June of 2013.
While I had already been reading positive reviews for this film, I can confidently say that for me this is one of the best movies of the year so far. Even in films that are based on true stories of bravery and courage, it is easy for them to slide into cliches and genre tropes. However, that is not what happens here. The whole movie is not focused on that fateful day in June of 2013; instead, it focuses on the lives of these men. It focuses on the personal growth of individual men, and the way these men formed a special kind of family. It follows the struggles and daily sacrifices these guys experienced, and while its hard to focus on twenty men, they do a fairly good job of showing off all twenty in some way or another.
While they highlight the good of these men and their courage in the film, they also do a good job of humanizing them. They each had their shortcomings. McDonough has a history with addiction as does Marsh. Kitsch’s Mackenzie and Dale’s Steed are hesitant to give McDonough a chance. Marsh and many others struggle to be present with their families and balance family life with the demands of the job. It is these personal struggles that endear this entire team to the audience and lead us to be utterly devastated by the events of the Yarnell Hill Fire.
The personal aspects of the story and the events that transpire are enough to make this story powerful, but it is made complete by the tremendous performances given by each cast member. Josh Brolin and Miles Teller are featured the most from the team, and they deliver on every moment. Their performances are made even more complete by the excellent performances of the other Hotshot actors like James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, and Geoff Stults. I was also incredibly moved by the role Jeff Bridges played in the story, and Jennifer Connelly gave one of the most impactful performances of the entire film.
Overall, I think that Only The Brave deserves to be watched in the theater. It clocks in at 133 minutes, but I don’t think I ever had the urge to look at my watch; I was completely engrossed in this story. It truly does pay tribute to these heroes without falling into cheesy moments or being disrespectful to their stories. It gives an inside look at the dangerous world of wildland firefighters and tells the story of this elite group that accomplished so much. Most importantly, this a film that celebrates the lives of these guys and the brotherhood they shared. I will warn you that this film will emotionally devastate you, but that should not detract you from giving this one a watch.