Director: Joseph Konsinski
Runtime: 133 minutes
Only the Brave is an action-drama from Joseph Kosinski, the director of Oblivion, and the writers of Black Hawk Down and American Hustle. The film is based on the non-fictional story of the Granite Mountains Hotshots, a crew of fire-fighters who fought the Yarnell Hill wildfire in Arizona in 2013. Without giving anything away, the final hour sticks the landing so well that I was able to forgive certain flaws. It’s a dramatically satisfying film that succeeds in acting and spectacle.
Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) is a seasoned firefighter based in Yarnell, Arizona, a former goldmining town surrounded by forest and mountains. For four years, he has been training a young crew through their formation from support unit to fully-fledged hotshots. Happiness for Eric is being out in the wilderness for months with his crew, and yet he tends to not discuss his work with his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly). One day at the Hotshots headquarters, in walks Brendan (Miles Teller). Brendan tells his whole story—jail, drugs, a newborn daughter and dreams of being a firefighter. Eric hires him on the spot. The rest of the movie focuses on the crew’s camaraderie, their training, and their battle against small forest fires that grow at terrifying speed.
Only the Brave doesn’t attempt to provide a detailed explanation of how firefighting works, but it is an informative lesson about hotshotting culture and tradition. We see what their day-to-day existence is like—working endless hours in the mountains, sleeping in dirt, clearing trees, mopping up dying fires, etc. In the tough terrain, anything these men touch can either bite or sting them, and even though they live together and rescue each other from near death, their camaraderie can sometimes backfire.
Kosinksi wisely doesn’t attempt to make the fire sequences showy or excessive in style. The wildfires never come across as “villains”. Konsinski displays skill in how he choreographs action and nails the sense of high the Hotshots get when they put out runaway fires. Credit goes to the seamless CGI effects and camera work from Oscar-winner Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi).
Only the Brave generates likeable characters and the presence of actors like Josh Brolin, Miles Teller and Jennifer Connolly helps a lot. There are some plot threads thrown into the movie that aren’t given enough attention (including a car accident that doesn’t amount to much), and I wish the screenplay had given us more introduction to its side characters. However, it didn’t distract me from the climax, which sent chills down my spine and will bring tears to the eyes.
Despite my complaints, they’re not enough to diminish Only the Brave’s feel-good and emotionally shattering moments. It offers something that many disaster movies don’t: believable situations and characters with depth. In the end, I was inspired by the determination, sacrifice and endurance the Granite Mountain Hotshots went through to protect their families and community.