The story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots is as pertinent today as it was in 2013. As I write this review, CNN is broadcasting from the horrific wildfires in Northern California. Thirty-one are confirmed dead with entire neighborhoods lost, including the homes of the first responders and firefighters battling the fiery inferno. Only the Brave is a fitting tribute to the men who fought the Yarnell Hill Fire. It is a tale of brotherhood, loyalty, and valor under the most extreme duress. This film will hit you like a punch to the gut. It reminds us of the sacrifice others make to ensure public safety.
Only the Brave is the film adaptation of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The story begins with Eric "Supe" Marsh (Josh Brolin) running the "fuels crew" for the city of Prescott in Arizona. A "fuels crew" cleared out brush and growth to prevent wildfires from spreading. Marsh, an elite firefighter with years of experience, wants his crew certified as "hotshots". These were the frontline firefighters called in at a moments notice.
Miles Teller co-stars as Brendan "Donut" McDonough. A drug addict and petty thief, McDonough gets a wake up call. His ex-girlfriend is pregnant, but wants nothing to do with him. Not wanting to relive the failures of his father, McDonough decides to get his life on track. He approaches Marsh for a job on his fuels crew. No one had been willing to give him a chance, but Marsh was different. These men, along with the rest of the Prescott crew, transcended their weaknesses collectively. They endeavored to earn hotshot status, and make a difference in their community.
Director Joseph Kosinksi (Tron: Legacy) knows how to make a special effects film. The fire scenes in Only the Brave are incredible. You can almost feel the heat in scene after scene of raging flames. He sells the brutal training and hellish conditions of forest fires. Where Only the Brave excels is the personal story. The Granite Mountain Hotshots were dedicated to their families and each other. Their private lives were deeply interconnected with their work lives. The men, women who loved them, and their children were essentially a giant family.
Only the Brave could have easily slipped into melodrama. Strong performances from the ensemble cast deliver stability in rollercoaster moments. Josh Brolin is a Hollywood stalwart who plays a tough guy better than anyone. He's got the grizzled demeanor down pat, but knows when to soften a character's hard edges. Marsh's mentoring of McDonough, his sweet relationship with his wife (Jennifer Connelly); Brolin and Kosinski are depicting a complex man with a stone visage. Marsh had strength when needed, but was also kind and generous. It is easily apparent why he was such a respected leader.
From Sony Pictures, Only the Brave is a testament to the Granite Mountain Hotshots and all those who plunge into danger to save others. It is a heartbreaking story, but one that continues to be relevant. In a time when society seems so divided over symbolism, Only the Brave is a stark reminder of real peril and the gallant few who face it.