Only The Brave tells the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite firefighting unit wiped out in the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona in June 2013. A fine tribute to 19 fallen heroes.
Only the Brave is an instance of straightforward, conventional storytelling done well. This is not one of those disaster flicks that relies heavily on spectacular action while neglecting the dramatic fundamentals (that said, the bush-fire sequences are frighteningly realistic).
Much of the movie centres on the backgrounds, motivations and relationships of three central characters: Marsh (Josh Brolin), outwardly tough but inwardly embattled fire chief in charge of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, his horse-whisperer wife Amanda (Jennifer Connolly), and ice addict rookie firefighter Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller).
Marsh’s domestic vs professional life dilemma is typical of that faced by members of an elite firefighting unit (or any band of brothers – soldiers, an elite sporting team, cops etc) in which camaraderie and commitment to the group cause are integral requirements. There is no doubting his love for Amanda, or hers for him, but his being virtually married to his time-demanding and often mentally and physically exhausting job puts an ever-building strain on their relationship, which he is reluctant to address. And he has his personal demons, manifest in his recurring nightmare of a sight he once witnessed – a bear aflame bounding out of a wall of fire.
Brendan’s motivation to haul himself out of the gutter of addiction by joining Marsh’s Granite Mountain Hotshots is his baby daughter, the unplanned result of a casual and now failed relationship. His conquering of his addiction and gradual regaining of dignity and self-belief has much to do with his eventual acceptance by the other guys in the unit as he takes on the tough firefighting training routines and subsequently applies them for real as part of the team. He’s an endearing character in which we emotionally invest, along with Marsh and the long-suffering but steely strong Amanda. This, of course, is vital to the success of the film.
The tragic blaze that marks the climax of the film is dramatic and powerful in its impact. History has already prepared us for what happens, but not for the sight of the forlorn and ultimately useless protective pods entombing the 19 doomed firefighters as they lie united in death in the ashes of the furnace that engulfed them. The aftermath for the families of the fallen, as they wait for confirmation of the terrible news they know is coming, is moving indeed. There is no milking of sentiment here; there is no need.
As the credits roll, the photographs of the firefighters who perished are juxtaposed with the cast members who played them. Par for the course in films like this, but affecting nonetheless.
Only The Brave works as a drama, as a respectful and fitting tribute to the decimated Granite Mountain Hotshots, and more generally, to all firefighters. Well worth seeing.
Movie Website: http://www.onlythebrave-movie.com/site/
Only the Brave features: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writers: Ken Nolan, Eric Warren Singer (based on the GQ article “No Exit” by Sean Flynn)
Runtime: 134 min
Australian release date: Only the Brave in Australian cinemas from 30 Nov 2017
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