Review by: Vitali Gueron
Only the Brave, based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, is directed by Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) and is loosely based on an article in GQ, ‘No Exit’, written by Sean Flynn. The film stars Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Taylor Kitsch, James Badge Dale and features Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly.
What most people know about the Granite Mountain Hotshots is that they are a young crew of specialist wildfire fighters, tasked with job of fighting wildfires head on.
According to GQ:
Hotshots are invariably referred to as elite firefighters, which suggests years of training, high-end equipment, and a mastery of the mechanics of wildfires. But none of that is required. The entry-level qualifications are a few dozen hours of classroom instruction and a decent level of fitness, and the primary tools are chain saws and Pulaskis, a specialty tool combining an ax and an adze. Hotshots also tend to be young…and few of them make a long career out of it.
During a routine assignment of fighting a wildfire in Yarnell, Arizona in June 2013, a total of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots were lost to the wildfire and it resulted in the greatest loss of firefighters since 9/11. This was known as the Yarnell Hill Fire. The lone survivor from the 20-man crew was 21-year-old Brendan McDonough (Teller). The pace of the movie starts out really slow, as tells the real life story of Eric and Amanda Marsh (Brolin and Connelly), a married couple who struggle through normal relationship ups and downs, living on a ranch outside Prescott, Arizona. Eric “Supe” Marsh is the superintendent of a hotshot crew of firefighters who are training to be certified to fight wildfires for the Prescott Fire Department. His second-in-command is Jesse Steed (Badge Dale) and the young hotshot crew trusts the both of them with their lives.
After sever weeks of intense training, in walks Brendan “Donut” McDonough (Donut is the nickname given to him by the more experienced hotshots, the same way a pledge gets one from his fraternity brothers during pledging). Donut went to the firefighters post in Prescott, where the hotshots were headquartered, with a mission. He knew a couple of guys from an EMT class he’d taken at a community college and he’d overheard them mention that Granite Mountain was hiring. But he was a stoned kid, straight out of serving a three-day sentence for theft and those guys knew him, too. No jobs, they told him. The veteran yet overly cocky hotshot Chris MacKenzie (Kitsch) told him straight up, all the positions had been filed. But Eric Marsh overhead McDonough asking and offered to interview him on the spot.
You see, Marsh saw something in McDonough, something he saw when he looked at himself in the mirror — a former addict who was looking for a second chance. McDonough recently had become a father and had to clean up and take more responsibility. And with that responsibility came sacrifice. Yet little did McDonough know just how much sacrifice being a hotshot was really asking of him.
As we get ever closer to the inevitable, harrowing ending in Yarnell, we get to see the hotshots for what they were – husbands, fathers, boyfriends and members of Prescott Arizona where Duane Steinbrink (played by Jeff Bridges) is not only the wildland division chief for the city of Prescott by day, but also a mighty fine singer at night with his country band called the Rusty Pistols (yes, Jeff Bridges sings for a bit in the movie). The entire hotshot crew celebrates that night as they bask in the glory of saving the ancient juniper tree during the Doce Fire.
The standouts of the movie are Josh Brolin and Miles Teller. Both actors show a broad depth of acting superiority and might. Brolin is fierce as Marsh, the hotshot superior — tough and calculated, yet humanly fragile, especially when confronting his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly at her best) with issues related to spending a long time apart. Teller is the rookie hotshot, out to prove himself after being known as junkie for all of his life. He brings a tender, yet sincere face to the hotshots and makes the audience feel like they can relate to him. As Donut is tasked with being the lookout for the hotshots in Yarnell, thus separating him from the other and ultimately sparing his life, Teller draws you in and makes you feel what he is feeling, deep down in your gut.
Overall, Only The Brave is a must see movie, whether you want to honor those who gave up their lives to save others from wildfires, or whether you want to see some of the finest storytelling and acting out this year. I would be surprised if you walk out of that theater and don’t feel like you’ve been sucker punched in the gut from that real life human emotion, precisely the kind the producers and director want you to feel when it’s all said and done.
Have you seen ‘Only The Brave’? Well, what did you think?