Only The Brave
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Andie MacDowell, Geoff Stults, and Ben Hardy
The story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots is tragic and heroic. It’s a story that displays the consistent, and often underappreciated, bravery that firefighters demonstrate while battling some of the biggest fires in the country. 19 Granite Mountain firefighters gave the ultimate sacrifice on June 30th, 2013 in Yarnell, Arizona, in one of the deadliest wildfires in recent U.S. history.
Turning the story of these men and their specialized work into a film is a daunting task, especially when it comes to creating a biography that engages and honors the memory of these firefighters. Director Joseph Kosinski, who tacked the science fiction films “Tron: Legacy” and “Oblivion”, may not seem like the most likely choice. However, “Only the Brave” operates as a film that aims to pay tribute to the memory of these firefighters first and foremost.
“Only the Brave” takes its time telling the story of the Granite Mountain team, watching them progress towards certification as the nation’s first municipal firefighting team with elite status as “hotshots”, which is the title given to firefighters who specialize in wildfire suppression tactics. Leading the team from Prescott, Arizona is Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), a tough supervisor who is haunted by dreams of a bear engulfed in flames. Eric and his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) have a strained relationship due to the prolonged hours Eric works. Preparing for their certification opportunity, Marsh hires a new recruit named Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) who is trying to turn his life around. McDonough earns his place within the team, “the family” as many of the firefighters describe it.
“Only the Brave” operates differently than other films like it. Take for instance a film like “Blackhawk Down” where much of the story is told through an action vehicle lens, “Only the Brave” rarely utilizes fire as motivational force. Instead the film steadily focuses on the characters and the drama that takes place away from actual firefighting, at home and during the down time. Mr. Kosinski utilizes these moments to provide insight into the lives of the firefighters, we see them with their families and watch them bond as teammates. Whether it’s taking care of an infant with a high fever, arguing with a significant other about life’s problems, or hanging out a barbecue, the film displays the ordinary and everyday lives of these men away from their heroics inside a dangerous fire. While this has a tendency to single out certain characters, it’s important to remember that all these men have a story to tell, it never undervalues the brotherhood these men have with one another.
The cast is a group of recognizable faces. Josh Brolin plays Eric Marsh as a tough but fair leader. James Badge Dale plays Jesse Steed, the second in command to Marsh, with loyalty and an unwillingness to let his team be anything but the best. Miles Teller plays Brendan McDonough with empathy, portraying a young man doing his best to make good on a second chance. Jennifer Connelly plays Amanda Marsh with compassion; she is a woman who must share her husband with a career. Connelly and Brolin have good chemistry even though they are stilted with some unfortunate dialog.
It’s impossible to honor each of the 19 men equally, even within the 133 minute running length of the film. While some of the specific stories and characters are singled out for dramatic storytelling purposes, the emphasis remains on the aspect of honor and bravery. Regardless of whether you are familiar with the story, everyone knows the tragic and devastating outcome; and trust me it’s one of the most heartbreaking scenes you’ll see in the cinema this year. These were real people, with real families, who made a real sacrifice for public safety. “Only the Brave” may not be the most unique title but it’s the perfect phrase to describe the men in this story.
3.75 out of 5.00