Joseph Kosinski’s Only The Brave is a deeply moving recounting of the events leading up to the death of 19 firefighters, known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots, while trying to protect the small town of Yarnell, Arizona, in 2013. A series of events put the crack firefighting team in the path of a massive fire that overwhelmed them, leaving only one survivor.

Only The Brave is a heart-touching reminder of what real heroes look like and how they act. They can be your friends and neighbours who are only different in how they don’t hesitate when there is a chance to help others. The loss of one such hero is a tragedy. The loss of 19 is a devastating moment in time that should be honoured with this kind of loving film tribute.

The film follows the group based in Prescott, Arizona, as they work their way up to being the only certified hotshot team to work for a municipality. The last to join the group is Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a drug user looking to change his life after he learns he is about to become a father.

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The men train exceptionally hard to earn their way into the top of the firefighting hierarchy. Kosinki shows both the camaraderie the group had plus their deep devotion to family, particularly through the story of the group leader, Eric “Supe” Marsh (Josh Brolin) and his wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly). There’s enough detail about their relationship to drive the emotional tones of the dramatic ending.

Connelly turns in one of her best performance as the loving wife who must deal with the fact that her husband spends most of the year running into areas where fires scorch the earth. She is convincing both as a loving and supportive spouse and as a woman who is being choked by the constant spectre of death.

It helps that she gets to share scenes with Brolin who masterfully plays the role of the group leader as both a hard-driving boss and a member of the firefighting band of brothers who would do anything to protect the man beside him. Brolin handles the tough guy act with easy but he’s just as comfortable in the moments with Connelly when he can allow his emotions to show.

Equally strong is Teller who grows with each role. His character exhibits the most growth in the group as he sweats his way to a maturity he’s never known. Along with Brolin, the two actors are the best developed of the hotshots.

That’s one of two problems with the film. It’s impossible within the confines of a 134-minute movie to fully deal with this many characters. Kosinski, working from the script by Ken Nolan, is backed into a corner where his only option was to spotlight a few of the hotshots and then touch on the others in passing. Many of those who died had families but that element is only broached in the end as the loved ones gather to get news of their husbands, sons and fathers.

Kosinski might have found a little more wiggle room by cutting most of the scenes with Jeff Bridges, the main advocate for the hotshots. The character offers little to advance the story and a scene with his playing with a local bar band comes across as more of a gimmick than being necessary.

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The other problem is the timing. Movies like Patriots Day and The 33 have been based on incidents that occurred in the last seven years. When making a movie based on a dramatic true event, there is a fine line between enough time elapsing to show a proper respect to the real people but not waiting so long that the story is a blip in history. This film feels like it was made so quickly that the dramatised tale is having to complete with the unforgettable real events.

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But in this world where reality rules, this kind of production will be the norm until the time gap is so short that it’s counterproductive. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for a film to be made on the recent Las Vegas massacre.

What cushions the timeline situation with Only The Brave are the strong performances by Brolin, Connelly and Teller coupled with a movie that so vividly recreates the world of hotshot firefighters you can almost feel the heat coming off the screen.

And, the movie also features a beautiful song over the credits, Hold The Light, performed by Dierks Bentley. The Arizona native’s tune is by far the best original song in a feature film this year and should not be overlooked by those putting together the Oscar nominations.

These elements are strong enough to eclipse any writing and timing quibbles and make Only The Brave work both as an action-filled drama and as a fitting salute to 19 heroes. — Rick Bentley/ Tribune News Service


Only The Brave

Cast: Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Taylor Kitsch, Jeff Bridges

Director: Joseph Kosinski